Africa

Government sanctioned land expropriation is central in South Africa’s upcoming election

On May 8, South Africa will hold its sixth general election since the end of the apartheid system in 1994, in what is being called the most important election since the birth of democracy 25 years ago. President Cyril Ramaphosa of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) will likely retain power if the ANC holds onto its political dominance.

Currently, there is factional infighting amongst all leading parties and a general loss of faith amongst the nation’s electorate. The vote will elect members of the National Assembly (which forms the basis for national administration), provincial legislatures in each province (which determines provincial government rule), and who will become the next President of South Africa. 48 parties will seek to earn support from nearly 27 million voters.

A generation after white minority rule ended in 1994, efforts by the governing ANC to address persistent racial disparities in housing, land ownership, and services are failing. South Africa’s economy has hardly grown over the past decade and government revenue continues to come in below estimates. In a number of townships across the country, residents have taken to the streets in recent months to demand land, houses, sanitation infrastructure, water, and electricity. President Ramaphosa, who took office last year, has promised to accelerate land redistribution, improve service delivery, and build a million houses over five years. Public anger has been aggravated by perceptions that some government officials and their business allies are growing rich from corruption. A spokesman for the police’s elite “Hawks” unit said it was investigating allegations of tender irregularities in a number of municipal housing and other improvement projects but did not provide details.

In 2018, President Ramaphose, who was a prominent trade union leader and a close associate of Nelson Mandela, said the ruling ANC should initiate a parliamentary process to amend the constitution to allow for the expropriation of land without compensation. "The ANC will through the parliamentary process finalize the proposed amendment to the constitution that outlines more clearly the conditions under which expropriation of land without compensation can be effected” the billionaire former businessman said, adding that “it has become pertinently clear that our people want the constitution to be more explicit" about the expropriation proposal, which is viewed by the South African white minority as forceful expulsion that can incite violence against farmers.

The motion was brought forward by Julius Malema, who is the leader of the radical Marxist opposition party, the Economic Freedom Fighters. It passed by a wide margin of 241 votes to 83 against. Mr. Malema has gained notoriety for his outspoken views towards South Africa’s white population and previously been convicted of hate speech for singing the apartheid-era struggle song “Shoot the Boer” – Boer means farmer for the Dutch. Mr. Malema has described land seizures as “teaching whites a lesson” and wants ownership to closer reflect South Africa’s population, where 80 percent of people describe themselves as black African, 8 percent white, and 9 percent as “coloured”. Mr. Malema told the parliament, “The time for reconciliation is over. Now is the time for justice. We must ensure that we restore the dignity of our people without compensating the criminals who stole our land.

The Boer farmers have owned their land since the 1600s, which was uninhabited prior to that. The broad public consensus that most privately owned land remains in white hands, with a few thousand white commercial farmers possessing the most fertile lands, makes it a potent symbol of wider economic disparities. According to a 2017 government audit, white people own 72 percent of farmland where white South Africans own 24 percent and the remainder is held by private enterprises. Black South Africans directly own 1 percent of the country’s rural land. Approximately 10 percent of land in white ownership has been transferred to black owners since the end of apartheid, which is only a third of the ANC's target.

South Africa’s High Court recently rejected a legal challenge brought by AfriForum, a civil rights group representing the white Afrikaner minority, against President Ramaphosa’s plans for land expropriation without compensation. The government was accused of drawing up a list of almost 200 farms it allegedly wants to seize from white farmers and a document was being circulated by ministers as the ruling powers prepare to implement the policy.

A record number of white South African farmers have put their land up for sale amid fears the ruling party is considering confiscating properties bigger than 25,000 acres. White farmers in South Africa are being targeted in a series of brutal attacks over land that are being overlooked by police and implicitly encouraged by the country’s parliament. Activist groups promoting the rights of white people in the country claim one farmer is murdered every five days, on average, and that South African authorities are tacitly approving attacks by turning a blind eye to the violence.

South Africa has the highest rape rate in the world and the second highest murder rate. Since the official state census in 1996, more than 400,000 white South Africans have left the country. There were roughly 128,000 commercial farmers in South Africa in 1980 but today there are only 40,000 commercial farmers left in South Africa. Since 1994, conservative estimates cite more than 70,000 white South Africans have been murdered, of which more than 4,000 were commercial farmers; exact figures are difficult to come by as the South African police fail to report most of the murders that take place. Many of the murders involve hideous torture, including rape, without charges or arrests to follow.

Sudan's President declares a state of emergency and dismisses the government

In a televised address to the nation on Friday, Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir declared a one-year national state of emergency. He has dismissed the federal government and all state governors and asked parliament to postpone constitutional amendments that would allow him to run for another term. President al-Bashir’s intelligence chief, Salah Gosh, had previously told reporters that the President planned to step down as leader of the ruling National Congress Party, and won’t seek re-election in an election scheduled for 2020.

President Bashir, 75, is an Islamist and former army officer who seized power in an Islamist-backed coup in 1989. He has remained resistant to stepping down. He is wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes and genocide committed during the conflict in Darfur.

Earlier on Friday, the head of Sudan's National Security and Intelligence Services (NISS) supposedly said that President Bashir would be stepping down. Anti-government protests have been held for weeks, which the President accused as an attempt to destabilise the country. The demonstrations started over cuts to bread and fuel subsidies in December but later morphed into anger at President Bashir's 30-year rule. To stamp out the protests, NISS have arrested hundreds of protesters, opposition leaders, activists, and journalists. More than 1,000 people are reported to have been detained since the protests began. Rights groups say more than 40 people have been killed in clashes with security forces.

The Sudanese Professionals Association, which is spearheading the protests, responded to Bashir's announcement by calling for the president to step down. "We are calling on our people to continue with demonstrations until the main aim of this uprising, which is the stepping down of the regime chief, is achieved," it said.

President Trump’s new strategy to improve U.S. - Africa relations

United States (U.S.) National Security Adviser John Bolton presented the Trump administration’s new Africa strategy last week at The Heritage Foundation. The strategy focused on three priorities:

  1. Enhancing U.S. trade and commercial ties with African nations through arrangements that benefit both the United States and Africa. According to Mr. Bolton, “We want our economic partners in the region to thrive, prosper, and control their own destinies. In America’s economic dealings, we ask only for reciprocity, never for subservience.”

  2. Countering the threat of Islamic terrorism. Specifically, Mr. Bolton announced, “ISIS, al-Qaeda, and their affiliates all operate and recruit on the African continent, plotting attacks against American citizens and targets. Any sound U.S. strategy toward Africa must address this serious threat in a comprehensive way.”

  3. Ensuring that the U.S. allocates its foreign assistance efficiently and effectively to advance U.S. interests. In particular, Mr. Bolton emphasized, “The United States will no longer provide indiscriminate assistance across the entire continent, without focus or prioritization. And, we will no longer support unproductive, unsuccessful, and unaccountable U.N. peacekeeping missions.”

With the strategy announcement, the Trump administration demonstrates its recognition that development is far less dependent on foreign assistance than it is on the willingness of African governments to adopt market and investment – friendly policies. The Trump administration wishes to “pursue modern, comprehensive trade agreements on the continent that ensure fair and reciprocal exchange between the United States and the nations of Africa.”

Analysts at the Heritage Foundation have strongly urged the U.S. to focus on and counter Islamic extremism in Algeria, Kenya, Libya, Nigeria, Somalia, and other countries in the region, which the administration focuses on as part of its strategy for the region. Mr. Bolton also said, “The predatory practices pursued by China and Russia stunt economic growth in Africa; threaten the financial independence of African nations; inhibit opportunities for U.S. investment; interfere with U.S. military operations; and pose a significant threat to U.S. national security interests.”

The Trump administration’s new foreign assistance strategy will improve the effectiveness of U.S. foreign aid, which requires an overhaul of America’s foreign assistance programs that are, in the words of Mr. Bolton, “designed to counter the Soviet Union during the Cold War” and “fight terrorism after 9/11” rather than on today’s priorities. In particular, U.S. foreign assistance will “move recipient states toward self-reliance, and prevent long-term dependency” with less needy recipients graduated from foreign assistance and reductions in aid to countries “making poor policy decisions.” U.S. aid will “target resources toward areas where we have the most impact to ensure efficient use of taxpayer dollars.

In line with the strategy’s emphasis on the responsible use of taxpayer money, Mr. Bolton criticized the kleptocratic and violent South Sudanese regime that has misused American aid and expressed skepticism that the same leaders who led that country into war can lead it to peace. “Countries that repeatedly vote against the United States in international forums, or take action counter to U.S. interests, should not receive generous American foreign aid,” said Mr. Bolton. He also underscored the important effort to review all United Nations (U.N.) peacekeeping operations to ensure they are fit for purpose and focused on resolving conflicts.

Though recent administrations have talked a big game about shifting the U.S. and Africa away from a benefactor-supplicant relationship toward a true partnership, the Trump administration’s strategy outlines a path to realize that goal.

Five Rwandans will stand trial at the International Court of Justice for the 1994 genocide

According to federal prosecutors, five Rwandans will go on trial at the Hague in Belgium over their alleged role in war crimes and genocide in Rwanda in 1994, where pre-trial authorities last week ruled that the five appear in the criminal court "for acts committed in 1994 in Rwanda in connection with the genocide of Tutsis and the massacre of moderate Hutus." United Nations (U.N.) figures said 800,000 people were killed during the Rwandan genocide, most of them from the Tutsi minority.

The five accused were divided into two cases. In the first, one defendant is referred to the court for murders and rapes; another for murders, attempted murders and rape; and a third for murders and attempted murders. In the second case, one individual is referred for murders, and another for murders and attempted murders.

"This is the first time that a Belgian (criminal court) will have to deal with facts qualified as genocide crimes," the prosecutor's office said. Four trials linked to the massacres in Rwanda were held in Belgium between 2001 and 2009, although the defendants faced only charges of war crimes. However, the prosecutor's office said the criminal court in Brussels will "also have to rule on the crime of genocide" in the new cases.

In 1993, a law was adopted that allows courts in Belgium, the former colonial power in Rwanda, to try Belgian residents, whatever their nationality, for crimes allegedly committed abroad. In 2001, four Rwandans, including two nuns, were convicted by a Brussels court. In 2005, a Brussels court sentenced two Rwandan businessmen to ten-to-twelve years in prison after they were found guilty of war crimes and murder linked to the genocide. In 2007, a former Rwandan army commander, ex-major, Bernard Ntuyahaga, was also convicted. In 2009, a Brussels court sentenced Rwandan Ephrem Nkezabera, dubbed the "genocide banker", to thirty years in prison for war crimes including murders and rapes during the bloodbath.

Trials have also been held in other European countries like Sweden, the Netherlands, Finland, Norway, Canada, and Rwanda itself. Cases have also been heard in Tanzania, whose northern city of Arusha hosts the UN-backed International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda.

Satellites warn African farmers of pest infestations

Researchers from the United Kingdom (U.K.) have developed an early warning system to prevent the crops of African farmers from being devastated. The Pest Risk Information Service (Prise) combines temperature data and weather forecasts with computer models and then sends farmers a mobile phone alert so that they can take precautions. It is hoped that the system will boost yields and increase farm incomes by up to 20 percent.

Prise is being used in Kenya, Ghana, and Zambia and will be rolled out soon in other parts of the world. Prise is an upgrade of a highly successful U.K. Aid scheme run by the Centre for Agriculture and Bioscience International development charity (CABI). It uses a network of so called "plant doctors" and clinics to advise farmers when pests or diseases destroy their crops.

Satellites can provide accurate land temperature information, which is one of the most important drivers of pest infestations. This, combined with weather data and computer models, can be used to give farmers enough time to spray pesticide and take other precautions. The ‘doctors’ draw on a database using an app to help them to diagnose the issue and then prescribe the right pesticide and other measures. So far, the scheme has helped 18.3 million farmers, in thirty-four countries across Africa, Asia, and the Americas. On average, farm incomes and yields are 13 percent higher for those using the service.

Professor Charlotte Watts, chief scientific adviser for the U.K.'s Department for International Development, which funds the plant doctor scheme, says a new initiative with CABI and the U.K. Space Agency (UKSA) will use the network to prevent, rather than just mitigate infestations. She says the idea is to use satellite data collected by the UKSA to develop a system that is able to predict when pest infestations will strike a week or more in advance. Early indications are that the system is working, says Professor Watts, "Farmers are completely dependent on crops and the predictability of having a good yield to survive and also to send their kids to school. So, if we can reduce the impact of pests, if we can enable them to get better yields - which we are already seeing - it will mean that we can help them move out of poverty."