The success of African governments is increasingly defined by their ability to manage the pace of social and political change. Africa’s burgeoning youth populations are flocking to the cities, embracing new forms of communications and media, and vocally demanding greater accountability from their governments.
Young and aspirational societies are above all hungry for jobs, but they also expect better public services and more evident social justice. This tide of expectation from the grassroots makes change inevitable. But while governments cannot stop it, they can still shape the pace and direction of change.
The African continent today is characterised by two types of nations – those led by reform-minded governments with the political will to deliver on their development strategy and overseeing robust growth driven by their private sectors; and those that resort to window-dressing efforts at reform while clinging to power through a reliance on patronage. In 2018, I anticipate more bumps in the road for African leaders who fail to respond to the clamouring of their young populations. But I also see the emergence of a new generation of leadership, like ours in Botswana, which has grown responsive to the needs and expectations of its citizens.
The new administrations of Cyril Ramaphosa in South Africa, Joao Lourenco in Angola, and Emmerson Mnangagwa in Zimbabwe, while facing notable political and economic challenges, will all strike a more reformist and accountable tone than their predecessors in 2018. I anticipate Ramaphosa will make bold cabinet selections in South Africa to reassure the capital markets, step back from some of President Jacob Zuma’s more controversial recent populist policy interventions, and importantly, push for investigations into some of the alleged graft which has rocked South African politics in recent years.
This will not be an easy task, such is the divided nature of his party and the fragile state of the economy. But he will look to assert his authority and strike a note of change, while upholding aspects of the ANC’s radical economic transformation agenda, which remains so critical to South Africa’s long-term socio-economic rebalancing post-apartheid.
Lourenco is also making waves in Angola as he seeks to assert his authority over the state apparatus and dilute the lingering influence of the dos Santos family, who have dominated Angolan politics for the last three decades. From his new position of growing strength, I anticipate that Lourenco’s reforms will move beyond personnel changes to actually tackle some of the monopolies that thrive in Angola’s heavily politicised business landscape. It remains to be seen however, whether such actions constitute part of a coherent development agenda, or whether they are simply a means of wrestling control of key patronage structures from one faction to another.
In those countries where leaders have sought to push back and resist the forces of change, political risks will increase, as was evidenced recently in Zimbabwe. In perhaps the most prominent example of this dynamic, President Joseph Kabila’s dance around the international community in the DRC will continue to fuel a political and security crisis in 2018 that carries risks of escalation. Kabila will continue to play to the gallery on his commitment to elections, but I see this as a means to detract from his entrenchment in power. This dynamic will continue to foment unrest and violence as the country limps along to an inevitable transition.
Between populism and pragmatism Linked to this same demographic pressure for reform and progress, governments are having to make tough decisions on how they run their economies, make policy and fund their development plans. With commodity prices still somewhat subdued, donor streams proving unreliable, and China taking a more restrained approach to the continent, in the last two-to-three years African governments have been forced to place a greater focus on economic diversification, debt-raising, fiscal reform, and efforts to broaden the tax base.
Such reforms are much-needed to strengthen the macro-economic sustainability of many countries. But they also carry structural risks, and notable opportunities and risks for business, which need to be carefully evaluated. With regards to structural risk, IMF chief Christine Lagarde in December 2017 sounded the warning bell over resurgent public debt levels in Africa, with external debt in particular vulnerable to foreign currency appreciation noting the likelihood of further interest hikes in the US and Euro-area this year.
After a swathe of debt write-offs in the 2000s with the launch of the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries Initiative (HIPC) in 1996, African debt is again on the rise, with many governments using commercial and conditional borrowing to plug persistent fiscal and budgetary gaps. On a positive note, unlike in previous debt cycles, much of the focus of recent borrowing has been to fund capital spending on infrastructure and developmental projects.
However, many governments have also proven either reluctant or unable to trim the public wage bill, cut back on subsidies and reduce wastage in the system by pioneering robust public-sector reform. This has proven evident in the challenging IMF negotiations around concessional reforms to enable extended credit facilities in countries like Mozambique and Zambia.
While 2018 is unlikely to be the year when the tide turns on African debt, we expect this issue to come increasingly into focus with several bond issuances nearing maturity, and the long-term sustainability of debt in countries like Guinea, Ghana and Kenya being called into question. Fortunately, African governments appear more engaged with the IMF and other lenders than they were during the stubborn debt crises of the 1980s.
But public-sector reforms will prove a bitter pill to swallow, and with governments under pressure to maintain spending and preserve jobs, the debt mountain is more likely to swell than deflate. This issue could well come back to bite, and donors are unlikely to countenance a second bailout along the lines of HIPC, underlining the long-term structural risks this presents if spending is not contained.
On the other hand, the move towards economic diversification – particularly in resource dependent economies – presents huge opportunities to business. These range from reforms and incentives to open untapped or under-productive sectors like mining and agriculture, to the launch of Special Economic Zones or ring-fenced industrial parks like the export-oriented manufacturing hubs being developed in Zambia or Ethiopia. Such moves are unlocking significant potential for both companies and government, with an aligned benefit from wealth and jobs creation, and increased fiscal contributions.
Yet in other areas, fiscal reforms and efforts to broaden the tax base come with risks for business. Internal revenue generation in Africa is lamentably low due to a combination of poor checks and systems, high levels of informality in the economy, low tax rates, and corruption. The drive to address this issue forms an important step to build more sustainable economies.
Yet while improving tax collection systems and broadening the tax base to capture untaxed areas is likely to be a positive move, we are also likely to see a struggle play out between the need for pragmatic fiscal management and the desire to secure easy populist wins which carry political capital. In particular, where tax authorities target the low-hanging fruit of existing tax payers to drive up tax collection, this is likely to carry risks to business and in some instances, have a detrimental effect on economic activity.
In 2018, we are likely to see hikes in excise taxes on consumer goods that are seen to carry health and environmental impact – notably drinks, plastics and tobacco products – and the telecoms sector will also face similar pressures as a perceived cash-cow for government. While environmental and health issues will be used as the rationale, often the real driver of fiscal change will be short-term revenue-raising requirements. And while the foot has been taken off the pedal in terms of resource nationalism in the extractives sector after a wave of fiscal and regulatory reform in the last decade, tax and regulatory enforcement – including stringent sanctions for non-compliance – is likely to remain a feature for this strategic sector, where local content and beneficiation will be the primary government focus.
Businesses will need to be alert to these risks, which can originate domestically or result from contagion stemming from ‘influencer markets’ like South Africa which wield significant regional influence. While the risk of contagion from the more radical forms of policy that has been pursued in recent years in countries like Zimbabwe or even Tanzania is limited by the realities of the political-economy in other markets, tax and regulatory pressures are likely to become a growing challenge for business, requiring robust and proactive engagement to manage the impact on operations and the bottom line.
Marcus Courage, CEO of Africa Practice Group, a pan-African strategy and communications consultancy with offices in London, Gaborone and six other African capitals. www.africapractice. com
Parliament was this week once again seized with matters that concern them and borders on conflict of interest and abuse of privilege.
The two matters are; review of MPs benefits as well as President Mokgweetsi Masisi’s participation in the bidding for Banyana Farms. For the latter, it should not come as a surprise that President Masisi succeeded in bid.
The President’s business interests have also been in the forefront. While President Masisi is entitled as a citizen to participate in a various businesses in the country or abroad, it is morally deficient for him to participate in a bidding process that is handled by the government he leads. By the virtue of his presidency, Masisi is the head of government and head of State.
Not long ago, former President Festus Mogae suggested that elected officials should consider using blind trust to manage their business interests once they are elected to public office. Though blind trusts are expensive, they are the best way of ensuring confidence in those that serve in public office.
A blind trust is a trust established by the owner (or trustor) giving another party (the trustee) full control of the trust. Blind trusts are often established in situations where individuals want to avoid conflicts of interest between their employment and investments.
The trustee has full discretion over the assets and investments while being charged with managing the assets and any income generated in the trust.
The trustor can terminate the trust, but otherwise exercises no control over the actions taken within the trust and receives no reports from the trustees while the blind trust is in force.
Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) Secretary General, Mpho Balopi, has defended President Masisi’s participation in business and in the Banyana Farms bidding. His contention is that, the practise even obtained during the administration of previous presidents.
The President is the most influential figure in the country. His role is representative and he enjoys a plethora of privileges. He is not an ordinary citizen. The President should therefore be mindful of this fact.
We should as a nation continue to thrive for improvement of our laws with the viewing of enhancing good governance. We should accept perpetuation of certain practices on the bases that they are a norm. MPs are custodians of good governance and they should measure up to the demands of their responsibility.
Parliament should not be spared for its role in countenancing these developments. Parliament is charged with the mandate of making laws and providing oversight, but for them to make laws that are meant solely for their benefits as MPs is unethical and from a governance point of view, wrong.
There have been debates in parliament, some dating from past years, about the benefits of MPs including pension benefits. It is of course self-serving for MPs to be deliberating on their compensation and other benefits.
In the past, we have also contended that MPs are not the right people to discuss their own compensation and there has to be Special Committee set for the purpose. This is a practice in advanced democracies.
By suggesting this, we are not suggesting that MP benefits are in anyway lucrative, but we are saying, an independent body may figure out the best way of handling such issues, and even offer MPs better benefits.
In the United Kingdom for example; since 2009 following a scandal relating to abuse of office, set-up Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA)
IPSA is responsible for: setting the level of and paying MPs’ annual salaries; paying the salaries of MPs’ staff; drawing up, reviewing, and administering an MP’s allowance scheme; providing MPs with publicly available and information relating to taxation issues; and determining the procedures for investigations and complaints relating to MPs.
Owing to what has happened in the Parliament of Botswana recently, we now need to have a way of limiting what MPs can do especially when it comes to laws that concern them. We cannot be too trusting as a nation.
MPs can abuse office for their own agendas. There is need to act swiftly to deal with the inherent conflict of interest that arise as a result of our legislative setup. A voice of reason should emerge from Parliament to address this unpleasant situation. This cannot be business as usual.
The 490-hectare campus researches the world’s deadliest pathogens, including Anthrax (in 1944, the Roosevelt administration ordered 1 million anthrax bombs from Fort Detrick), Ebola, smallpox, and … you guessed right: coronaviruses. The facility, which carries out paid research projects for government agencies (including the CIA), universities and drug companies most of whom owned by the highly sinister military-industrial complex, employs 900 people.
Between 1945 and 1969, the sprawling complex (which has since become the US’s ”bio-defence centre” to put it mildly) was the hub of the US biological weapons programme. It was at Fort Detrick that Project MK Ultra, a top-secret CIA quest to subject the human mind to routine robotic manipulation, a monstrosity the CIA openly owned up to in a congressional inquisition in 1975, was carried out. In the consequent experiments, the guinea pigs comprised not only of people of the forgotten corner of America – inmates, prostitutes and the homeless but also prisoners of war and even regular US servicemen.
These unwitting participants underwent up to a 20-year-long ordeal of barbarous experiments involving psychoactive drugs (such as LSD), forced electroshocks, physical and sexual abuses, as well as a myriad of other torments. The experiments not only violated international law, but also the CIA’s own charter which forbids domestic activities. Over 180 doctors and researchers took part in these horrendous experiments and this in a country which touts itself as the most civilised on the globe!
Was the coronavirus actually manufactured at Fort Detrick (like HIV as I shall demonstrate at the appropriate time) and simply tactfully patented to other equally cacodemonic places such as the Wuhan Institute of Virology in China?
THE FORT DETRICK SCIENTISTS’ PROPHECY WAS WELL-INFORMED
About two years before the term novel coronavirus became a familiar feature in day-to-day banter, two scientist cryptically served advance warning of its imminence. They were Allison Totura and Sina Bavari, both researchers at Fort Detrick.
The two scientists talked of “novel highly pathogenic coronaviruses that may emerge from animal reservoir hosts”, adding, “These coronaviruses may have the potential to cause devastating pandemics due to unique features in virus biology including rapid viral replication, broad host range, cross-species transmission, person-to-person transmission, and lack of herd immunity in human populations … Associated with novel respiratory syndromes, they move from person-to-person via close contact and can result in high morbidity and mortality caused by the progression to acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS).”
All the above constitute some of the documented attributes and characteristics of the virus presently on the loose – the propagator of Covid-19. A recent clinical review of Covid-19 in The Economist seemed to bear out this prognostication when it said, “It is ARDS that sees people rushed to intensive-care units and put on ventilators”. As if sounding forth a veritable prophecy, the two scientists besought governments to start working on counter-measures there and then that could be “effective against such a virus”.
Well, it was not by sheer happenstance that Tortura and Bavari turned out to have been so incredibly and ominously prescient. They had it on good authority, having witnessed at ringside what the virus was capable of in the context of their own laboratory. The gory scenario they painted for us came not from secondary sources but from the proverbial horse’s mouth folks.
CDC’S RECKLESS ADMISSION
In March this year, Robert Redfield, the US Director for the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), told the House of Representatives’ Oversight Committee that it had transpired that some members of the American populace who were certified as having died of influenza turned out to have harboured the novel coronavirus per posthumous analysis of their tissue.
Redfield was not pressed to elaborate but the message was loud and clear – Covid-19 had been doing the rounds in the US much earlier than it was generally supposed and that the extent to which it was mistaken for flu was by far much more commonplace than was openly admitted. An outspoken Chinese diplomat, Zhao Lijian, seized on this rather casual revelation and insisted that the US disclose further information, exercise transparency on coronavirus cases and provide an explanation to the public.
But that was not all the beef Zhao had with the US. He further charged that the coronavirus was possibly transplanted to China by the US: whether inadvertently or by deliberate design he did not say. Zhao pointed to the Military World Games of October 2019, in which US army representatives took part, as the context in which the coronavirus irrupted into China. Did the allegation ring hollow or there was a ring of truth to it?
THE BENASSIE FACTOR
The Military World Games, an Olympic-style spectrum of competitive action, are held every four years. The 2019 episode took place in Wuhan, China. The 7th such, the games ran from October 18 to October 27. The US contingent comprised of 17 teams of over 280 athletes, plus an innumerable other staff members. Altogether, over 9000 athletes from 110 countries were on hand to showcase their athletic mettle in more than 27 sports. All NATO countries were present, with Africa on its part represented by 30 countries who included Botswana, Egypt, Kenya, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.
Besides the singular number of participants, the event notched up a whole array of firsts. One report spelt them out thus: “The first time the games were staged outside of military bases, the first time the games were all held in the same city, the first time an Athletes’ Village was constructed, the first time TV and VR systems were powered by 5G telecom technology, and the first use of all-round volunteer services for each delegation.”
Now, here is the clincher: the location of the guest house for the US team was located in the immediate neighbourhood of the Wuhan Seafood Market, the place the Chinese authorities to this day contend was the diffusion point of the coronavirus. But there is more: according to some reports, the person who allegedly but unwittingly transmitted the virus to the people milling about the market – Patient Zero of Covid-19 – was one Maatie Benassie.
Benassie, 52, is a security officer of Sergeant First Class rank at the Fort Belvoir military base in Virginia and took part in the 50-mile cycling road race in the same competitions. In the final lap, she was accidentally knocked down by a fellow contestant and sustained a fractured rib and a concussion though she soldiered on and completed the race with the agonising adversity. Inevitably, she saw a bit of time in a local health facility. According to information dug up by George Webb, an investigative journalist based in Washington DC, Benassie would later test positive for Covid-19 at the Fort Belvoir Community Hospital.
Incidentally, Benassie apparently passed on the virus to other US soldiers at the games, who were hospitalised right there in China before they were airlifted back to the US. The US government straightaway prohibited the publicising of details on the matter under the time-honoured excuse of “national security interests”, which raised eyebrows as a matter-of-course. As if that was not fishy enough, the US out of the blue tightened Chinese visas to the US at the conclusion of the games.
The rest, as they say, is history: two months later, Covid-19 had taken hold on China territory. “From that date onwards,” said one report, “one to five new cases were reported each day. By December 15, the total number of infections stood at 27 — the first double-digit daily rise was reported on December 17 — and by December 20, the total number of confirmed cases had reached 60.”
TWO CURIOUS RESEARCH HALTINGS
Is it a coincidence that all the US soldiers who fell ill at the Wuhan games did their preparatory training at the Fort Belvoir military base, only a 15-minutes’ drive from Fort Detrick?
That Fort Detrick is a plain-sight perpetrator of pathogenic evils is evidenced by a number of highly suspicious happenings concerning it. Remember the 2001 anthrax mailing attacks on government and media houses which killed five people right on US territory? The two principal suspects who puzzlingly were never charged, worked as microbiologists at Fort Detrick. Of the two, Bruce Ivins, who was the more culpable, died in 2008 of “suicide”. For “suicide”, read “elimination”, probably because he was in the process of spilling the beans and therefore cast the US government in a stigmatically diabolical light. Indeed, the following year, all research projects at Fort Detrick were suspended on grounds that the institute was “storing pathogens not listed in its database”. The real truth was likely much more reprehensible.
In 2014, there was a mini local pandemic in the US which killed thousands of people and which the mainstream media were not gutsy enough to report. It arose following the weaponisation at Fort Detrick of the H7N9 virus, prompting the Obama administration to at once declare a moratorium on the research and withdraw funding.
The Trump administration, however, which has a pathological fixation on undoing practically all the good Obama did, reinstated the research under new rigorous guidelines in 2017. But since old habits die hard, the new guidelines were flouted at will, leading to another shutdown of the whole research gamut at the institute in August 2019. This, nonetheless, was not wholesale as other areas of research, such as experiments to make bird flu more transmissible and which had begun in 2012, proceeded apace. As one commentator pointedly wondered aloud, was it really necessary to study how to make H5N1, which causes a type of bird flu with an eye-popping mortality rate, more transmissible?
Consistent with its character, the CDC was not prepared to furnish particulars upon issuing the cease and desist order, citing “national security reasons”. Could the real reason have been the manufacture of the novel coronavirus courtesy of a tip-off by the more scrupulous scientists?
President Mokgweetsi Masisi may have breathed a huge sigh of relief when he emerged victorious in last year’s 2019 general elections, but the ultimate test of his presidency has only just begun.
From COVID-19 pandemic effects; disenchanted unemployed youth, deteriorating diplomatic relations with neighbouring South Africa as well as emerging instability within the ruling party — Masisi has a lot to resolve in the next few years.
Last week we started an unwanted cold war with Botswana’s main trade partner, South Africa, in what we consider an ill-conceived move. Never, in the history of this country has Botswana shown South Africa a cold shoulder – particularly since the fall of the apartheid regime.
It is without a doubt that our country’s survival depends on having good relations with South Africa. As the Chairperson of African National Congress (ANC), Gwede Mantashe once said, a good relationship between Botswana and South Africa is not optional but necessary.
No matter how aggrieved we feel, we should never engage in a diplomatic war — with due respect to other neighbours— with South Africa. We will never gain anything from starting a diplomatic war with South Africa.
In fact, doing so will imperil our economy, given that majority of businesses in the retail sector and services sector are South African companies.
Former cabinet minister and Phakalane Estates proprietor, David Magang once opined that Botswana’s poor manufacturing sector and importation of more than 80 percent of the foodstuffs from South Africa, effectively renders Botswana a neo-colony of the former.
Magang’s statement may look demeaning, but that is the truth, and all sorts of examples can be produced to support that. Perhaps it is time to realise that as a nation, we are not independent enough to behave the way we do. And for God’s sake, we are a landlocked country!
Recently, the effects of COVID-19 have exposed the fragility of our economy; the devastating pleas of the unemployed and the uncertainty of the future. Botswana’s two mainstay source of income; diamonds and tourism have been hit hard. Going forward, there is a need to chart a new pathway, and surely it is not an easy task.
The ground is becoming fertile for uprisings that are not desirable in any country. That the government has not responded positively to the rising unemployment challenge is the truth, and very soon as a nation we will wake up to this reality.
The magnitude of the problem is so serious that citizens are running out of patience. The government on the other hand has not done much to instil confidence by assuring the populace that there is a plan.
The general feeling is that, not much will change, hence some sections of the society, will try to use other means to ensure that their demands are taken into consideration. Botswana might have enjoyed peace and stability in the past, but there is guarantee that, under the current circumstances, the status quo will be maintained.
It is evident that, increasingly, indigenous citizens are becoming resentful of naturalised and other foreign nationals. Many believe naturalised citizens, especially those of Indian origin, are the major beneficiaries in the economy, while the rest of the society is side-lined.
The resentfulness is likely to intensify going forward. We needed not to be heading in this direction. We needed not to be racist in our approach but when the pleas of the large section of the society are ignored, this is bound to happen.
It is should be the intention of every government that seeks to strive on non-racialism to ensure that there is shared prosperity. Share prosperity is the only way to make people of different races in one society to embrace each other, however, we have failed in this respect.
Masisi’s task goes beyond just delivering jobs and building a nation that we all desire, but he also has an immediate task of achieving stability within his own party. The matter is so serious that, there are threats of defection by a number of MPs, and if he does not arrest this, his government may collapse before completing the five year mandate.
The problems extend to the party itself, where Masisi found himself at war with his Secretary General, Mpho Balopi. The war is not just the fight for Central Committee position, but forms part of the succession plan.