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Where do SA’s best interests lie globally? by Richard Calland

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Ukraine shouldn’t have worn such a short skirt. It invited trouble. It’s Ukraine’s fault that it got raped.

Some of the contextual and historical analysis of why the Russian invasion took place blames Ukraine. It shouldn’t have been so independent, so democratic — or, in some absurd accounts, so “neo-Nazi” — nor should it have aspired to Nato or European Union membership.

It’s a thin line between trying to explain why a war has broken out and what could and should have happened to prevent it, and blaming the victim for military aggression that is causing death and destruction to its people and its cities.

South Africa’s foreign policy, and its position at the United Nations, does not cross this line, despite the gnashing of teeth of certain Western diplomats and politicians. What irks them is a belief that Pretoria is appeasing Vladimir Putin or supports Russia.

This is neither accurate or fair, nor reasonable. To say that it does represents a failure to grasp South Africa’s place in the world and to understand what its diplomatic efforts have been trying to achieve.

But it was fuelled by South Africa’s position at the UN last week when two humanitarian resolutions were debated at the General Assembly. A fair analysis requires an understanding of what transpired and why.

As a first humanitarian resolution was drafted, the “pen-holders” were France and Mexico, whose aim was to achieve wide and diverse support. Most humanitarian resolutions are relatively uncontroversial and are dealt with by the UN Security Council. This one could not because it condemned the military action of one of the five permanent members of the Security Council, which enjoys a veto right. So, it went to the General Assembly. South Africa, with the backing of other countries, wanted the resolution modified to maximise support.

Pretoria neither hoped nor expected to persuade Russia to support the resolution — it couldn’t since its proposed modified resolution also spoke to the need to respect Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty, as well as to refrain from destroying buildings and infrastructure — in line with Pretoria’s view that Russia is in breach of international law.

The department of international relations and cooperation had spelt this out to the ANC in a briefing days after the start of the invasion, asserting the view that Russia was violating international law by using force without the sanction of the Security Council or without there being a credible and imminent threat of the use of force by Ukraine.

South Africa’s ambassador, Mathu Joyini, was especially busy, encouraged by some EU diplomats to think that there was an opportunity to mould one resolution. Her view was that the best outcome would be a resolution that would attract maximum support and therefore make it harder for Russia to ignore a strong resolution calling for specific action on creating humanitarian corridors.

Pretoria gets that Putin is dangerous; it buys into the idea that Putin would use nuclear weapons if he is pushed into a corner, and recalls his chilling statement shortly after the invasion started that “Why do we need a world if Russia is not in it?” Which is why Pretoria is focusing so much attention on diplomacy that works, rather than grandstanding, and which might succeed in driving Putin towards a peaceful negotiation process rather than more and more dangerous bellicosity.

This may be misjudged, or naive, or may over-reach South Africa’s influence, but it is not ill-intended.

In the event, Ukraine closed the door on further revision of what by then had become its resolution. It wanted wording of condemnation of Russia. It won a clear majority, with 140 in favour, but with 38 abstentions, many of whom might have supported a single resolution that focused on the humanitarian issues rather than on condemning the Russian offensive.

What is harder to understand is why South Africa persisted with its resolution. One answer provided by the department of international relations’ diplomats is that since it had the support of a significant number of countries it was important to table it and have it voted on.

Was this a wise decision, given the blow-back that Pretoria has faced since? Was the harm to its global reputation worth risking?

Probably not, since the argument on the resolution was already lost. It was poor decision-making, perhaps, but not “bending over backwards to serve Russian masters” as some have suggested, and certainly not deserving of any “Mampara” award.

Joyini, along with colleagues such as Ambassador Ndumiso Ntshinga and Zaheer Laher back at HQ, who lead on the UN side, are seasoned diplomats, people of professional integrity.

I wonder how many of those who have passed judgment have looked at the precise wording of the two resolutions, still less troubled to speak to the people at the diplomatic coal-face.

The non-alignment position is consistent with the past two decades of South African foreign policy — with the exception of former president Jacob Zuma’s ex-spook strong-man bromance with Putin. Ramaphosa is still trying to reverse out of the dubious “obligations” that Putin’s embezzlement of Zuma in relation to the unlawful nuclear power procurement process created, and that may have some influence on how Ramaphosa deals with Putin.

But again, I can find no direct link with Pretoria’s UN stance on Ukraine.

It is a question of a difference of worldview, as well as a different set of interests, and it is surprising that so many Western diplomats and commentators cannot recognise this.

It is unreasonable of Western capitals and diplomats, who tend to see Ukraine in binary moral absolutist terms, to expect a country of the Global South, such as South Africa, with a long track record of non-alignment, to jump into line in support of Western unity.

The one time Pretoria did depart from its non-aligned approach in the case of Libya in 2011, it ended in tears when South Africa’s planned abstention on the no-fly zone UN resolution, which led to Western military intervention and the overthrow of the Gaddafi regime, was overridden at the last minute by Zuma, putting South Africa on the wrong side of that history. There is scar tissue from that incident, which may also explain Pretoria’s trenchant non-alignment.

Ramaphosa’s instinct is to try to preserve good economic and diplomatic relations with a diverse range of global players — the US, the EU and the United Kingdom; but also Russia, India and China.

Fair enough. But, early in his presidency, in 2018, he went to Saudi Arabia to raise much-needed investment and returned with a $2-billion commitment in his back pocket, along with the memo on Saudi human rights violations in Yemen that the department of international relations and cooperation had prepared for him but which apparently he chose not to open and raise with Riyadh.

Economic diplomacy prevailed. Since then, International Relations Minister Naledi Pandor has returned to Riyadh and has subsequently welcomed her opposite number to Pretoria. This puts the country on thinner ice. South Africa needs jobs and inward investment, hence the interest in a good relationship with the Saudis.

But it weakens Pretoria’s criticism of the West for lack of consistency in the application of international law. Far harder to complain that “European lives matter more” than Yemenite ones when you yourself are doing business with war criminals.

The geopolitical landscape is shaking. Big questions are still to be answered, such as whether Putin will survive, the US will emerge stronger or weaker, Nato’s relevance will be fully restored and renewed or further questioned, and whether a new post-globalisation era of trading blocs built on the back of new strategic political and military alliances will form.

Regardless, the world order will not be the same again, with profound implications for everyone, including South Africa.

Where, thereafter, and in the longer-term, do South Africa’s best interests lie — not in a narrow trading or development aid perspective, but in relation to what sort of global human society it is desirable to have? One in which autocratic bullies have power and dictate the terms of global security, regimes that behead people and barely recognise women’s rights, control the price of fuel, and nationalist fascists undermine multilateral attempts to address the climate emergency?

It may be simplistic to cast the next era as a battle between liberalism and illiberalism, but South Africa needs to think much harder about where its interests really lie and position itself accordingly.

A new, multipolar world order may seem appealing, but governments  must be careful what they wish for.

Strictly Personal

Yes, Aisha Buhari eats from poor people’s money! By Festus Adebayo

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Though the wife of the Nigerian president, Aisha Buhari, has discontinued her defamation case against Aminu Adamu, the final year student of the Federal University, Dutse, Jigawa State, the court of public opinion cannot afford to throw the issue into the dustbin. In what was the Nigerian First Lady’s most recent controversy, having allegedly ordered the arrest and detention of the university student, massive flaks against her and the futility of continuing the matter, it was said, must have necessitated the withdrawal of the apparently dead-on-arrival matter.

Aside from the above, the concept of the First Lady and its implications for the social health of society today deserves to be re-examined. The cliché, “behind every great man is a great woman” has led political scientists, psychologists, sociologists, and philosophers to look intently into the texture of the characters of spouses of rulers of the world. This is because, mere concentration on political actors and their policies have failed to unravel, in many cases, why they behave the way they do. With the arrest, detention, and alleged torture of Adamu on the orders of Mrs. Buhari, the question of who Aisha Buhari really is has been more compelling. Is she a villain dressed in the robe of power or a victim of the icing on the cake of power?

On a Twitter post, Adamu had attributed the bloat in the physique of the First Lady to and symbolizing excessive romance with the Nigerian national pot of soup. Adamu had specifically tweeted: Su mama anchi kudin talkawa ankoshi, which translates to “the mother has gotten fat on masses money.” He accompanied this tweet with a puffed-up picture of the First Lady. Piqued by what she must have considered a plebeian audacity, Aisha was reported to have ordered the young man’s arrest and his rough parceling to the Nigerian presidential villa, where he was allegedly tortured and remanded in prison,

The truth is that the First Lady and the Nigeria Police who charged Adamu for defamation by his tweet, perhaps due to the many decades of military rule, do not understand the proper concept of democracy; nor do they have a whiff of what representative democracy is all about. When purged of all the unnecessary icing of its highfalutin definition, representative democracy, which we practice in Nigeria, is a give-and-take concept. Also known as indirect democracy, it is a type of democracy where elected people act to represent a group of people. It is a system practiced by nearly all western-styled democracies, its typical examples being the United Kingdom and the United States of America. Broken down to its granules, in representative democracy, the people, aware of the disorder it would have meant for everybody to be in parliament and Government Houses at the same time, place the power to govern them in the hands of their representatives who they elect in a periodic election ritual.

Representative democracy has its origin in the Roman Republic, which was the first known state in the Western world to practice it. Romans sold this system to the world in which, though supreme power lay in the hands of the people, they ceded this power to their elected representatives who then wield the power on their behalf. In most instances, these are representatives who are felt to have superior knowledge of administering society or who possess some rare qualities that are not found in the generality of the people. The people however reserve the power and right to withdraw such powers in the form of recall from the parliament and impeachment of this erring representative by their representatives in the parliament.

To focus the attention of these representatives on the business of governance, the people make available to them some measure of comfort which they get from their consolidated national pool, their national patrimony. The house built in the people’s name and with their resources, which is christened Government House, is made available to these representatives to live in, free of charge. The ones who could not live in this house are rewarded in cash called Housing Allowance. It is not because they are more entitled to live therein than the people who they represent. They also eat free food, paid for the patrimony of the people. For their time which is sacrificed, they are paid salaries and other allowances. The health and well-being of these representatives are the bothers of the state. Thus, in many democracies, they are treated free of charge from the pool of the people’s money. In fact, so that they are not distracted, the state also pays for their children’s schooling and their wives’ comfort. The representative needed not to be distracted looking for food, and shelter, and bothering about the wellbeing of his spouse. So the state caters to virtually all the family members of the representative.

In the 2023 budget estimate, the offices of Aisha’s husband, President Buhari, and his Vice-President, will spend the sum of N11.92 billion on local and foreign trips, as well as on the presidential air fleet. It is inclusive of the sum of N1.58bn which was earmarked for aircraft maintenance and another N1.60bn which was allocated for the overhaul of the Gulfstream GV and CL605 aircraft engines of the presidential office. In the same vein, the Office of the President was slated to spend N2.49bn on local and foreign trips, and the Vice-President’s office, N846.61m. Fuelling of these aircraft, according to the budget, will cost the Nigerian taxpayers which comprised the poor and the rich, the sum of N250m, while N650m will be spent to purchase a new mobile helicopter landing pad.

In the same budget, the sum of N40.45m was penciled for the construction and equipping of a new presidential kitchen and a total of N508.71m to be spent on foodstuffs and refreshments, an amount which stands at N331.79m and N176.92m for the offices of the President and Vice-President respectively. I am not aware that the above sums emanated from the private wealth of Mrs. Buhari’s husband or from the proceeds of his cows in Daura. She can only be allowed to claim that she had not eaten the poor people of Nigeria’s money if any of the amounts earmarked for the Villa feeding and comfort does not have her participation in them in the last seven and half years.

It was this same Mrs. Buhari whose daughter, Hanan stirred the hornet’s nest when she was conveyed by the Presidential jet to attend the Durbar in Bauchi. By Nigerian governmental convention, it is only the President, First Lady, Vice-President, Senate President, Speaker of the House of Representatives, the Chief Justice of Nigeria, former Presidents, and a Presidential delegation, are allowed to use the Presidential jet. It will also be recalled that, in that year’s budget, the amount voted for the Presidential jets was N8.5bn. Hanan, who graduated in Photography from Ravensbourne University, London, was said to have gone to Bauchi on a special invitation as a special guest of honour of the Emir of Bauchi, Rilwanu Adamu.

Photographs of her Hanan disembarking from the presidential plane and being welcomed by Gombe State officials went viral around this time. The Emir was said to have invited her to the Durbar so that she could take photographs of the celebration, Bauchi architecture, as well as some other cultural sites in the state. While Mrs. Buhari’s daughter was engaged in this unconscionable abuse of office and waste of taxpayers’ money by this act, it beggars belief that the same woman would be miffed by the allegation that she was chopping poor Nigerian people’s money. Before getting into office, her husband, then Major General Buhari, was trenchant in his criticism of the Goodluck Jonathan government and the ones before him, for expending public funds on unjustifiable things.

For all our food and the comfort of our collective home called Aso Villa where she lives, all we ask from the First Lady is tolerance. She would only have had a defence in court if she could present verifiable and irrefutable evidence that she spends her personally earned money and not money belonging to the poor and the rich of Nigeria, to feed herself in the last seven and half years plus. If she could not, she would lack every right to litigate against a 24-year-old Nigerian who claimed that the Nigerian people’s money, with which she feeds, must have been responsible for her bloated physique. She might however have had a defence if she could provide evidence to show that she recently acquired sheppopotamus-size image – apologies for the nil discretion in an earlier statement by Prof Wole Soyinka so describing Mrs. Goodluck Jonathan – was as a result of a health challenge and not from proceeds of Nigerian people’s money which she chops legitimately.

With an apparent dearth of Paparazzi journalism in Nigeria, the type that unearthed several hidden details of Princess Diana’s liaison with her Arab consort, Dodi Fayed, scholars must rise to the people’s rescue and begin to piece Aso Villa jigsaws together. Perhaps by so doing, they could arrive at the current frame of mind and fitting psychoanalysis of the office of the First Lady under Buhari. Except for photo-op sessions, there have been allegations of no love lost between Aisha and the Nigerian president. Specific suggestions have even sidled into public discourse that the First Lady does not enjoy spousal attention from her husband.

The first absurd manifestation of this in the public was Mrs. Buhari’s open antagonism and criticisms of her husband’s government in the early years of the administration. This was so notoriously manifest that many people concluded that if indeed the couple lived together as husband and wife and indeed shared affection, she could have offered those pieces of advice in the presidential closet. In 2019, while appearing on a Lagos television show, Aisha was asked why she was always criticizing her husband in the public rather than having “pillow talk” conversations with him that symbolizes spousal affinity and interaction, she replied, “there is no pillow in the villa. No,” She however attributed this to their busy schedule.

Again, the brawl at the Villa between her and the leader of Aso Rock’s cabal, Mamman Daura, revealed an ugly underbelly of the relationship between Aisha and her husband. What came to the limelight was that the two live in different apartments in the Villa. The brawl between Daura’s daughter and the First Lady showed that there was an attempt to de-room Mrs. Buhari in favour of Daura’s daughter. On top of this, a couple of years ago, the First Lady packed her belongings out of her «matrimonial home» and made the UAE her home. These absurd revelations should interest scholars of the social health of Nigeria’s seat of power.

The psycho-analysis would need to be made of these mis-matrimonial manifestations in the First Family, so as to decipher whether Mrs. Buhari’s current fly-off the handle had a direct correlation to her matrimonial frustration. It was the same despotic disposition that Ondo State people saw in Feyi George, wife of their military governor, Naval Officer Olabode George, in the 1990s. The “couple” had left office before it came to the fore that that marriage was for the press and in actual fact, the two actors were miles apart and merely acting marriage. Scholars would thus need to help us unravel whether Nigerians are witnessing another marriage of convenience between Aisha and her husband, the Nigerian president. If this is it, we may then begin to see a connection or corollary between some disjunctive manifestations in power at Aso Rock and this spousal spat.

No woman would live with a fib that intent analysis of Aso Rock matrimony portrays as a presidential family without an occasional urge to bare the fangs of a tiger. It is not unlikely that what the world saw in the Adamu tackling was an attempt to grasp at a straw which the “power wielder” mis-perceived as power through that unnecessary anger at Adamu. This is because Mrs. Buhari looks too charming and matronly to behave in a manner that could only have been advertised by Mrs. Idi Amin Dada.

What Mrs. Buhari did with Adamu was a crude and naked abuse of power. If she wasn’t wrong by her act, then our fathers and mothers who died in the bid to dethrone military rule and embrace democracy died in vain. People died and were maimed for us to be where we are today, the courtyard of free speech. Free speech can only be checkmated by defamation and not the baring of a wolf’s claws. It is the antithesis to use the democratic office to harass anyone like a despot. Why what Aisha Buhari did to Adamu was an oxymoronic tragedy to the Nigerian people that, by that act, she got our people to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

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Strictly Personal

When the lenders come calling, govt will do worse than Nalule by Joachim Buwembo

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When the now 40-year-old Gertrude Nalule lost her husband in a car crash a couple of years back, a bleak future stared at her with her seven children, five of them biological. But her good neighbours in the Kampala suburb of Namungona came to her rescue and contributed to having a modest house built for her, though not to perfect completion. An apparently good neighbour offered her a small loan of Ush3 million shillings (less than $1,000) to boost her groceries business.

But soon after contracting the debt, Covid-19 struck and the business collapsed. The neighbour demanded his money and amidst painful toiling, Nalule kept paying bits amounting to what she had borrowed. But she hadn’t reckoned with what is now called a mbaata (duck) agreement in Kampalaspeak, agreement moneylenders now prefer, were like a sitting duck, the borrower is made to sign a document declaring that they have sold their property to the lender at a sum much higher than that disbursed.

Nalule had signed a mbaata agreement to the effect that she had sold her home for Ush10 million (about $3,000) and the neighbour wanted “his” house and plot since she had defaulted on the loan. He tried to make her accept a couple of millions to complete the “sale” and she refused to take it. He went to court, which ruled in his favour, and Nalule was sentenced to prison for six months for defaulting. After serving two months in jail, her story ran on NTV, catching the attention of the indefatigable Prime Minister Robinah Nabbanja, who stormed the country’s main prison of Luzira.

Rotting in prison

Nabbanja discovered to her horror that besides Nalule, about 650 other women are also rotting in prison after signing mbaata agreements. Nabbanja swiftly paid off some Ush2.5 million, which the money lender said Nalule still owed in interest, and secured her release.

But even as Nalule cried in relief calling Nabbanja “mother” and “saviour” as she was driven in an official car to go a reunite with her children, she and the prime minister were in for a rude shock. The money lender insisted the home was his and demanded that Nalule’s wretched family (the eldest girl of 17 had missed her O’level final exams while the middle one had missed her primary leaving exams as a result of the mother’s imprisonment) quit immediately. Nabbanja caused a session with the magistrate who had the jailed Nabbanja and yes, he insisted that Nalule surrenders the house, that the law is the law. The prime minister with the victim were left with the mbaata sitting on their chest.

The prime minister’s woes were not about to end. Chief Justice Owiny-Dollo was furious with her tampering with the independence of the judiciary. A statement was immediately issued assuring the judicial officers of his support both in private and public. A couple of days later, the chief justice used the occasion of a judiciary conference to put the prime minister in her place. He explicitly told her to use her zeal in more useful endeavours like supervising the Executive’s non-performing projects including a power dam that closed two months after commissioning. And so on the Nabbanja bashing continued.

‘Duck’ agreements

But as the learned brothers and sisters continue bashing the down-to-earth Nabbanja, they seem not bothered that the country is in the same position as the 650 Ugandan women jailed in their country after signing “duck” agreements and losing their property as well. Yes, the country borrows from foreign money lenders who behave no better than local shylocks who take advantage of widows. We borrow for projects and only a tiny fraction of the loan ever comes to the country. Heaven knows how many billions on our debt account are for granite and road-building materials dug from our soil, most of the rest going to consultancy services paid abroad. The government’s contribution to the project does most of the funding anyway. One lender demanded for the government’s contribution upfront and took it away to earn interest in deposits. A vigilant parliament committee forced them to return the money. Another lender took the country’s contribution to first build a road, and guess where? In wealthy Kuwait. As our judiciary pours scorn on “duck” women victims, someone should tell them the whole country is treated like a duck by foreign lenders.

 

 

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