Tag: South Africa

Mandela, and de Klerk

It would be hard to say anything new about Nelson Mandela after the last day of praise and remembrance.  I met him–very briefly–at a UN cocktail party in 1994.  All I really remember is his assiduous effort to introduce himself to each of the wait staff.  They were thrilled.  So was I.

But there are a few things that might bear repetition, if only for emphasis.  As correct as it is to celebrate Mandela for his pursuit of justice, it was really his pursuit of peace that made him so unusual.  I wouldn’t want to minimize the courage required to stand up against racism in apartheid South Africa, but it took at least as much to stand up to those who thought violence was the only way to bring the system down and then to seek reconciliation with white South Africans in the aftermath.

That would not have been possible but for Mandela’s negotiating partner, F.W. de Klerk.  As the last president of apartheid South Africa, he not only released Mandela from jail but cooperated in converting his country to a one-person, one-vote electoral system that necessarily meant the end of white domination, at least at the ballot box.  He also ended South Africa’s nuclear weapons program, which was meant to help sustain apartheid.

South Africa managed its transition quickly and well, even if I find it hard to admire its post-apartheid politics (and politicians).  The countries I mostly follow in the Balkans and the Middle East are not so much managing their transitions as experiencing them, and things are going slowly by comparison.  It seems to me there are at least four reasons: Read more

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Peace Picks July 22-26

1. Rouhani: Challenges at Home, Challenges Abroad, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, Monday, July 22 / 9:00am – 11:30am

Venue: Woodrow Wilson Center

1300 Pennsylvania Ave., NW, Washington, D.C. 20004

Speakers: Bijan Khajehpour, Shervin Malekzadeh, Suzanne Maloney, Roberto Toscano, Ali Vaez, Shaul Bakhash

Six Iran experts discuss President-elect Rouhani’s domestic and foreign policy challenges.

Register for the event here:

http://www.wilsoncenter.org/event/rouhani-challenges-home-challenges-abroad

Read more

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A good idea

It is difficult to imagine a good reason for the persistence of the Nonaligned Movement, which will hold a summit meeting beginning tomorrow in Tehran.  Its website does not appear to have been updated since the early years of the century, so it is hard to understand what it thinks it is doing.  Hosted by Supreme Leader Khamenei, the week’s meeting will include distinguished representatives like Sudanese war crimes indictee President Bashir, Zimbabwean President Mugabe, Venezuelan President Chavez and North Korean President of the Supreme People’s Assembly Kim Yong Nam. It’s a wonder Bashar al Assad is not planning to attend.

Of course there are also other, far more reputable attendees:  the Tunisian, Libyan and South African Foreign Ministers, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the Australian UN ambassador (hard for me to understand what is non-aligned about Australia).  And, most notably, newly elected Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi.

If anything good might come out of such a meeting, I imagine it would come from the interaction of these democratic and would-be democratic states with the startling array of autocrats.  I can hope that there is at least a bit of private criticism, as in “Robert, do you think it is in the interest of Zimbabwe that you continue to hold on to power?”  Or “Hugo, tell me how you are doing in the polls.”  But there is a real risk that such a conclave will be seen in some parts of the world as validating the legitimacy of the autocrats and undermining the citizens who oppose them.

That’s where National Iranian American President Trita Parsi’s idea comes in.  He tweeted today that Morsi should meet with Green Movement leaders in Tehran, those brave souls who contested the 2009 presidential election as not free and unfair only to find themselves outgunned, outmaneuvered, beaten and defeated in the streets. A call on Mir-Hossein Mousavi, just returned to house arrest from a stay in the hospital, is one possibility.  Or a visit with younger activists.  Morsi, the product of successful street protests and a serious (if not perfect) election, should want to hear from Iranian protesters, unless he has already switched to his predecessor’s mentality, as the New York Times suggests.

But why only Morsi?  He will be reluctant to do it alone, as he will not want to offend the hosts and put at risk whatever improvement in relations with Tehran he hopes to initiate.  Better if the whole lot of more serious democratic leaders announce their willingness to meet with the Green Movement and others who are not on good terms with the Iranian regime, which claims it is not repressive.

I am not at all sure whether any Iranians would dare accept the invitation, as the consequences for them could be dramatic (and some Green Movement leaders are under house arrest).  But that doesn’t mean the idea is a bad one.  It would at least signal to the host that its more democratic “non-aligned” friends know what is going on.  And it would signal to the Green Movement that the democratic world knows their plight and sympathizes with it.

 

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Zimbabwe: peaceful transition?

One more interesting session at the Achebe Colloquium today at Brown.  The original subtitle was “Prospects for a Stable Democracy or Dictatorship.”  Robert Rotberg proposed the refocus to peaceful transition, which seems to me right.  One way or another the Mugabe dictatorship is finished.

Alex Vines, Chatham House:  The economy is improved (inflation down), but the political situation is highly uncertain. The peace agreement of 2008 has run its course.  Any election by 2013 will be a tight contest. Mugabe, now 89, likely to stand again (!).  SADC (the Southern African Development Community) is underperforming economically, which is one reason South Africa is engaging on Zimbabwe.  SADC election observers are a good idea.

Blair Rutherford, Carleton University: Who opposes democratic state?  “Those with horns are hard to hide behind grass”:  security forces, diamond and land tycoons, dominant culture of national politics (“politics is war”).  These forces will continue to shape the results.

John Campbell, Council on Foreign Relations:  Elections in Zimbabwe will likely occur in the first half of 2012, followed by bloodletting.  What does the U.S. do to avoid this?  American leverage is weak, maybe nonexistent.  Zimbabwe is a marginal issue in Washington.  Zimbabwe does however impinge on South Africa, where demands for expropriation of white-owned land are growing.  Washington should be engaging with South Africa, SADC and China.  American NGOs and U.S. government should object to Mugabe’s exclusion of international election observers.  USG should commit to holding individuals perpetrating electoral violence accountable.  This would be a policy of skim milk:  words and symbols, no sticks and stones.

Robert Rotberg, Harvard:  The dictatorship will not continue in its current form.  We need a strengthened dialogue and accountability, as suggested by Campbell.  What is happening that suggests a peaceful transition is possible?  Eighty-ninety per cent of the country supports MDC (Movement for Democratic Change), which has serious talent able to run a democracy.  ZANU-PF (Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front, Mugabe’s political party) loses in anything like a fair election.   The country has diamonds and infrastructure, even if it has lost two-thirds of its GDP per capita.  Still it has the best-educated population in Africa.  SADC is more active, Mugabe is aging and ill, the International Criminal Court (ICC) is interested.  But Mugabe is still alive and killing his opposition,  corruption is rife, diamonds make it possible, the Chinese help ZANU-PF, media are government controlled, there is no constitution, ZANU-PF will is experienced and accomplished at rigging  elections (especially the count).  Net assessment:  at best mildly hopeful, until SADC takes a firmer stand.

Chitsaka Chipaziwa, Zimbabwe ambassador to the UN:  No-show.  No surprise.

Vivian Nkechinyere Enomoh, Nigerian Independent Electoral Commission:  Need truly independent electoral commission, fully funded by the international community.

Emeka Anyaoku, Former Secretary General The Commonwealth:  Speaking from the floor, he underlined the historical role of Mugabe, the centrality of the land issue and the resulting support for Mugabe both inside Zimbabwe and in the rest of Africa.  It is not clear that he will lose the election.  Chinua Achebe concurred in that view.

Bottom line:  Prospects for free and fair elections and peaceful transition are uncertain.  It is up to AU, SADC and the Chinese to counter ZANU-PF securicrats and ensure it happens.

 

 

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