East Africa rising: but China eclipses West

East_Africa_mapThe defeat of the Soviet Union had a positive effect on Africa, but it has not been Western liberalism that has succeeded in Africa so much as pragmatism, according to two prominent analysts.

For it is the institution of the ruling party that affirms political continuity across much of the East Africa region, even as countries in East Africa have achieved consistent and strong economic growth, according to Stratfor’s Robert D. Kaplan and Mark Schroeder:

After all, Ethiopia’s government is by no means a democratic regime; neither is Rwanda’s. Yet Ethiopia has averaged a 10 percent annual growth in GDP and Rwanda 8 percent over the past decade or so. Thus, to say that Western-style democracy has succeeded in Africa is a narrow version of the truth. More truthful is the fact that what is transpiring constitutes Asian-like pragmatism with African characteristics. Further encouraging this is the large-scale presence of the Chinese nearly everywhere in Africa, scouring for minerals, metals and hydrocarbons, and building transportation infrastructure as a consequence. For the Africans, the Chinese are, in part, symbols of economic dynamism without the stern moral lectures about democracy that they get from the West.

“Examples of Asian-like pragmatism are in evidence throughout the continent. Banished are political leaders in countries such as Mozambique and Tanzania, willing to oppose the development of vast reaches of their countries — and the economic potential therein — for the sake of internal political control,” Kaplan and Schroeder contend. “Others, such as the political leadership of Uganda and Rwanda, will embrace economic liberalism, as long as political freedoms do not challenge the ruler’s interests..”

HT: RealClearWorld.


China using BRICs to change liberal world order

brics bankChina now clearly wants to build its own global system with the help of the BRICS, writes Pankaj Mishra, the author of “From the Ruins of Empire: The Intellectuals Who Remade Asia:”

China’s poor and often resentful BRICS cousins are willing to assist its global self-assertion. India and South Africa need easier access to one of the biggest reservoirs of savings in the world; Russia, ostracized after its annexation of Crimea and cynical maneuverings in eastern Ukraine, seems keen for the respectability endowed by international forums.

“Russian President Vladimir Putin’s posturing in Brazil just hours before a Malaysia Airlines jetliner was shot down in Ukraine is not the only indication of the BRICS’ inability to offer an acceptable moral and political alternative to Western hegemony,” Mishra suggests:

South African President Jacob Zuma, who has been accused of rape as well as corruption, and India’s Narendra Modi, the new prime minister of the country billed as the world’s largest democracy, don’t raise many hopes, either. Modi flew to Brazil shortly after elevating his consigliere to the presidency of his ruling party: a man who, as Bloomberg News reports, is “on trial for ordering three murders, kidnapping witnesses, running an extortion racket and hiring criminals to shoot up a rival’s headquarters.”

“China, which was not intoxicated by its imminent superpowerdom and possesses more conditions for sustained economic expansion than any other BRICS country, still has to move from its old model of investment-led growth to domestic consumption,” says Mishra. “Until this mammoth task is accomplished, China’s own attempt to change the status quo will not work, and the acronym BRICS will continue to denote extravagant ambition rather than genuine ability.”


African civil society: an Action Program for Democracy


Taking advantage of the opportunity provided by the White House’s African Leaders’ Summit, leading American democracy and human rights organizations will convene a concurrent African civil society conference, Towards an Action Program for Democracy, on August 5th and 6th in Washington, D.C.

The conference will be an important platform for leading African activists to remind their governments and the international community that African citizens value freedom and democracy and will provide an opportunity to help reassert democratic reform and human rights on the African agenda, galvanize and network African democracy activists, share challenges and achievements, identify priorities, and craft strategies.

While nearly 50 African heads of state pursue official government agendas at the Leaders’ Summit, the civil society conference will engage prominent democracy and human rights activists from Africa in a series of working groups to develop specific recommendations, goals, and demands, which will result in an Action Program for Democracy in Africa. The working groups will take place on Tuesday, August 5 at the National Endowment for Democracy.

On Wednesday, August 6, the findings and recommendations of each working group will be presented by senior civil society leaders at a day-long public meeting in the U.S. House of Representatives. There will be discussions with members of each working group, and an opportunity for questions and debate from the audience, which will include a broad spectrum of interested parties, including the African diaspora, media, donors, policy makers, academics, international organizations and members of the governmental delegations participating in the Leaders’ Summit. Feedback from this event will be incorporated into an Action Program, addressed to African governments, civil society, and citizens, as well as the international community, on the occasion of the US-Africa Leaders’ Summit. The Action Program will be circulated in a final document after the Summit, and the conference deliberations and declarations will be disseminated via broadcast and internet media, communications by conference participants, and the organizing efforts of Africa’s democratic activists on the ground.

As planning for this landmark conference continues, details will be available online here, including a full list of civil society task force members.

Confirmed members of the Civil Society Task Force:

  • Maina Kiai, UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and of Association, InformAction (Kenya)
  • Wole Soyinka, Playwright and poet, Nobel Laureate (Nigeria)
  • Fatoumata Abdou, Journalist (Mali)
  • Safaa Adam, Community Development Association (Sudan)
  • Alimure Ali, Atlas Fellow (South Sudan)
  • Mohamed Ben Jemaa, Citizen Media Observatory (Tunisia)
  • Gerard Bisambu, Agir pour des Elections Transparentes et Apaisées (Democratic Republic of Congo)
  • Elizabeth Chyrum, Human Rights Concern (Eritrea)
  • Delphine Djiraibe, Public Interest Law Center (Chad)
  • Martine Ekomo-Soignet, YALI Fellow (Central Africa Republic)
  • Debebe Hailegebriel, Lawyer , Civil Society Advocate (Ethiopia)
  • Michael Karikpo, Environmental Rights Action (Nigeria)
  • Djingarey Maiga, Femmes et Droits Humains (Mali)
  • Henry Maina, Article 19 (Kenya)
  • Ibbo Mandaza, SAPES Trust (Zimbabwe)
  • Rafael Marques de Morais, MakaAngola
  • Dr. Maati Monjib, Ibn Rochd Center (Morocco)
  • Christian Mounzeo, Rencontre pour la Paix et les Droits de l’Homme (Republic of Congo)
  • Estella Nelson, Liberia Women’s Media Association
  • Albert Nzamukwereka, Never Again Rwanda
  • Franklin Oduro, Center for Democratic Development-Ghana
  • Emmanuel Saffa Abdulai, Society for Democratic Initiatives (Sierra Leone)
  • Gilbert Sendugwa, Africa Freedom of Information Centre
  • Yourbètèg Ezéchiel Some, Centre d’Information et de Documentation Citoyennes (Burkina Faso)
  • Ibrahim Tommy, Centre for Accountability and the Rule of Law (Sierra Leone)

    Sponsoring organizations include the National Endowment for Democracy, Freedom House, the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights, the National Democratic Institute, the International Republican Institute, the Center for International Private Enterprise, and the Solidarity Center.

    When and Where

    August 6th, 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. : Presentation and discussion of Civil Society Task Force Reports

    *An invitation to register to attend the conference on August 6 will be sent out in a few weeks. Space will be limited and proof of registration will be required.

    Cannon House Office Building, Caucus Room (345), Independence and New Jersey Ave, SE, Washington, DC 20515

Can BRICS run a rights-respecting development bank?


Getty Images

Getty Images

Can the emerging economic powerhouses of the so-called BRICS - BrazilRussiaIndiaChina, and South Africa – underwrite development in a way that doesn’t stamp on the rights of people who are supposed to benefit? asks Jessica Evans, a Senior Researcher/Advocate for International Financial Institutions at Human Rights Watch:

That’s the big question following an agreement struck at the end of the BRICS summit yesterday to establish the New Development Bank with an initial capital of US$ 100 billion. Headquartered in Shanghai with a rotating presidency, first held by India, the new bank’s stated objective is to mobilize resources for infrastructure and sustainable development projects in BRICS and other emerging countries…..

At a minimum, the bank’s rules should prohibit investment in activities that would cause, contribute to, or exacerbate human rights violations, require respect for human rights in all of its activities, and require staff to identify the human rights impacts of bank activities and avoid or mitigate adverse impacts. They should also include policies on indigenous peoples, involuntary resettlement, and labor standards that meet the norms provided for in international law, and prohibit discrimination on all grounds identified by international law.

“To call for such an approach might appear naive in light of the non rights-respecting behavior the governments involved are responsible for,” Evans writes, “but the BRICS have an opportunity to be global leaders on development by building a bank that advances rights-respecting development. If they do not, the new bank could do more damage than good.”

Potential cracks

“There may be potential cracks in the facade of unity once China asserts its interests,” said Eric Farnsworth, vice president of the Council of the Americas:

The BRICS countries face other challenges like slowing economic growth. While Jim O’Neill, the former Goldman Sachs executive who coined the term BRIC 2001 (before South Africa joined the group in 2011), had predicted that Brazil would grow 5 percent a year over this decade, the economy has eked out much slower growth since 2011, forecast at just 1.6 percent this year.

Still, while the bloc involves countries with varying levels of economic growth, vastly different political systems and an array of simmering issues like the hostilities between Russia and Ukraine and the territorial disputes between China and its neighbors, analysts caution that its potential clout should not be taken lightly.

“They still have just shy of half the world’s population,” said Kevin P. Gallagher, a professor of international relations at Boston University, emphasizing the influence the countries already have within organizations like I.M.F. and the World Trade Organization. “They are a force regardless of their growth rate, which will remain faster when averaged than the West’s for years to come,” he tells the New York Times.

While the political motivations for the initiative are easy to identify, the economic benefits are much harder to pin down,” says Robert Kahn of the Council on Foreign Relations:

“I am skeptical that the BRICS Bank will be an effective development institution or rescue facility, and see serious risks that its good ambitions could be undermined by poor investments, bad policies, and even corruption,” he says, listing five reasons why.

Burundi: halt crackdown on opponents, critics

burundi mbonipaBurundian authorities should halt their crackdown on opposition party members, Human Rights Watch said today. Officials should also quash a March 21, 2014 verdict in which 48 people were handed sentences ranging from two years to life in prison:  

The trial of 70 people, most of them opposition party members, lasted no more than one day, and neither the defendants nor their lawyers were able to prepare their defense properly, Human Rights Watch said. Those charged with credible offenses should receive a retrial that meets international fair trial standards….

Human Rights Watch has documented a pattern of restrictions on the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly in Burundi over the past four years. Since late 2013, there have been escalating confrontations between the ruling party and the opposition, and persistent harassment of opposition parties by state agents and ruling party members. Civil society activists and independent journalists have also been targeted. Most recently, a prominent human rights activist was put on trial on July 4, accused of endangering state security.

Human rights groups are also expressing concern over the fate of Pierre Mbonimpa (above), chairman of Burundi’s Association for the Protection of Human and Prisoners’ Rights [APRODH].

Samantha Power, the US Ambassador to the United Nations, recently tweeted “#Burundihuman rights leader Pierre Mbonimpa has been jailed for 35 days—his govt continues to deny him a trial. Must be given justice ASAP.”

“The trial of opposition party members was blatantly unfair and seriously flawed from beginning to end,” said Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “The Burundian government should stop any further politicization of the justice system and ensure the courts are not used to collectively punish opponents ahead of the 2015 national elections.”