Africa’s Long Road and Current Developments

By Keith Somerville, ICWS Senior Research Fellow

Buhari and the Bulldozer gets to grips with graft – combatting corruption in Nigeria and Tanzania. A demonstration of the diversity but also shared problems of structure and agency in Sub-Saharan Africa

Sub-Saharan Africa definition UN

Sub-Saharan Africa definition UN

This month my book on Africa’s post-independence histories is published by Hurst and Co, entitled Africa’s Long Road Since Independence. The Many Histories of a Continent. It deals with the great diversity of post-independence political, economic, social and cultural development in sub-Saharan Africa, tracing elements of continuity and change from pre-colonial and colonial periods and how the evolution of the many and varied histories of African states demonstrate varying levels of conflict between structural factors and human agency and how amid their great diversity may also be found common structural challenges and forms of the exercise of agency. These seemingly contradictory aspects of the continent’s history are part of the rich mix of difference and shared experience, especially in relation to the widespread dependence on exports to fund formal economic activity and government spending and to the functioning of informal networks of power and patronage alongside weak formal state institutions. These facets of development are exemplified in recent elections in a number of states and post-electoral policies in two states – Nigeria and Tanzania.

Thirteen elections took place in Africa in 2015. The one in Burundi sparked violence as the incumbent sought an unpopular and arguably unconstitutional third term. Others saw the retention of power, often amid accusations of electoral fraud from defeated opponents, by sitting presidents and little change or no change in policies, empowerment of citizens or any shred of accountability of governments dominated by powerful patron/client networks. Nigeria and Tanzania were exceptions. In the former, the opposition candidate Muhammadu Buhari defeated the incumbent Goodluck Jonathan, in the first ever victory by a challenger in Nigeria’s history; in the latter, President Jakawaya Kikwete stood down after two terms and John “Bulldozer” Magfuli became the ruling Chama cha Mapinduzi (CCM) candidate and defeated a strong challenge from the opposition candidate, Edward Lowassa.

Muhammadu Buhari 2015

Muhammadu Buhari 2015

Nigeria and Tanzania have very different political systems whose post-independence development have been a demonstration of the divergent histories of sub-Saharan African states. But despite the bloody, divisive and fractious nature of Nigeria’s experience since the end of British colonial rule in comparison with the relative peace, tolerance and unity of Tanzania, and despite the massive squandered oil wealth of Nigeria measured against the meagre natural resources of Tanzania, they have important similarities. Both are highly dependent on export earnings, foreign loans or aid to fund government budgets, both have seen the development of networks of patronage as means for politicians to develop and maintain support bases, and both have seen these networks rely on corruption, rent-seeking from export income and impunity in the face of weak state institutions to retain their clout, politically and economically.

Although their electoral experiences in 2015 were different, with Nigeria seeing the first ever electoral defeat of an incumbent president and Tanzania seeing yet another election in which the ruling CCM retained power, the elections brought about substantial changes in direction for the two countries. Former Nigerian military leader Muhammadu Buhari campaigned on the issues of the Jonathan government’s failure to defeat the Boko Haram insurgents, its glaring incompetence in economic management and its corruption and cronyism. In Tanzania, Magfuli had stressed his past record as a minister in fighting corruption, and being the Bulldozer that cleared away obstacles to good and honest management.

John Magfuli "Bulldozer"

John Magfuli “Bulldozer”

In Nigeria, one serious and long-running source of corruption, patronage and power has been what is known as the security vote – the huge budget assigned from oil revenues to run Nigeria’s bloated military machine.  Conflicts from the Biafran War through the Niger Delta insurgencies to Boko Haram’s campaign in the north-east have enabled the armed forces and their political allies to devote huge sums to the military with little or no auditing of how the money has been spent or why, after decades of massive funding, the army remains poorly equipped and ineffective action against security threats.  Dozens of soldiers have been charged with cowardice or mutiny for failing to stop Boko Haram’s occupation of large swathes of the north-east.  Those accused defended themselves saying that they lacked modern equipment and even ammunition.

Now it is becoming evident why such a well-funded army may not have been able to arm its soldiers properly.  Buhari pledged to root out corruption and within months of being sworn in found huge levels of graft involving defence funds.  Charges of corruption and misuse of billions of naira allocated to paying imports arms have been levelled against some of the top officials of the last government.  They include President Jonathan’s National Security Adviser (NSA), Sambo Dasuki; a former director of finance at the office of the NSA, Shuaibu Salisu; an aide to former President Goodluck Jonathan, Waripamowei Dudafa; a former general manager at the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, Aminu BabaKusa; a former governor of Sokoto State, Attahiru Bafarawa, and his son, Sagir Bafarawa.  Some of the funds, withdrawn in foreign currency, were said to have been used to fund the electoral campaign by Goodluck Jonathan’s People’s Democratic Party, while other tranches of money were used to buy expensive houses in Abuja for relatives of the accused. Nigerians await the trial with keen interest to see if the wall of impunity for senior politicians and officials is being broken down.

In Tanzania, the Bulldozer got to work fast after his October election victory.  Instead of celebrating in State House, the day after his inauguration he paid an unscheduled visit to a major state-run hospital.  Finding it in a dreadful state with total inadequate care for the patients, he fired the board and acting director there and then.  Soon after, he sent his new Prime Minister, Kassim Majaliwa, to the notoriously mismanaged and corrupt port in Dar es Salaam.  The premier found that taxes amounting totalling US$40million hadn’t been paid and the port authority and customs authorities were mired in corruption. Magfuli immediately suspended and arrested the Tanzania Revenue Authority’s Commissioner General and five top officials. He also sacked the head of the port authority and several  senior officials in the transport ministry.  In recent years, Dar es Salaam has become one of the major transit points for ivory, precious metals, gems and other illicit goods leaving East Africa for China and other Asian destinations, and the entry point for drugs.  Magfuli also suspended expensive independence day celebrations and instituted a day of work to clean up the streets, in which he took an active and highly publicised part.

These two developments in two very different states demonstrate both the vast differences in African states’ political and economic structures, but also areas of similarity in dependence on exports and the way that this can lead to the development of patronage networks, corruption and the exercise of power beyond the control of weak state institutions and legal systems.  Impunity may not be over for these informal patron/client systems, but in two countries a promising new start has been made.

 

Keith Somerville is a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, University of London; and teaches at the Centre for Journalism, University of Kent.  His book, Africa’s Long Road Since Independence. The Many Histories of a Continent. Is published by Hurst and Co in January 2016; and he has just finished writing his next book on the history of the ivory trade in Africa.

Kenya’s Marsh Pride: What future for lions, people and development?

By Keith Somerville, ICWS Senior Research Fellow

In early December 2015, it was reported that eight lions from the Marsh Pride in Kenya’s Maasai Mara National Game Reserve had been poisoned by Maasai herders illegally grazing their cattle there. The Mara reserve is a protected area from which herders and livestock are banned.  The deaths were widely reported by international broadcasters, newspapers and the Kenyan press.  Not only was the poisoning a blow to the country’s already vulnerable lion population, but the lions had appeared on the BBC’s popular Big Cat Diary TV series and in the book The Marsh Lions. The Story of and African Pride, written in 1982 by Brian Jackman and Jonathan Scott.  Scott, a leading wildlife artist, writer and photographer, has followed the generations of the pride since 1978, and was one of the main presenters of Big Cat DiaryThe poisonings were a huge blow to the pride itself, to the Mara’s lions and were indicative of the huge and unresolved problems of aligning wildlife conservation, habitat protection with the ways of life, livelihoods and urgent need to raise the incomes and living standards or rural communities across lion range states in Africa. Had it not coincided with major global stories such as the Paris climate conference, the controversy over bombing Syria and the continuing refugee crisis, the killings of the lions had all the ingredients for a re-run of the media-fest that followed the shooting of the lion known as Cecil in Zimbabwe in the summer. Here were lions that had been seen and followed by millions on TV or the internet, that had been named (and to an extent anthropomorphised) and had been killed illegally in a protected area.

Copyright – Jonathan and Angela Scott

Copyright – Jonathan and Angela Scott

Jonathan Scott attempted to publicise the killings, not as a sensationalist story like Cecil’s, but to raise serious issues.  He got in touch with me and other journalists and wrote on his blog that this tragedy for the lion pride had to be turned into something that brought about real change – change that would be in the interests of people and lions. Scott wrote on his blog, “Now we have to honour the lives of those extraordinary big cats by putting things right. The only way to do that is by ensuring that we speak our truth. We must ask those difficult questions and confront the very complex issues that make up the political environment surrounding the Masai Mara. We must do that on behalf of all Kenyans. This is a national issue as well as a local one.” And it is.  And it is an issue that affects all communities that live around national parks and game reserves across Africa, the wildlife in and around those protected areas, the conservationists and researchers working to preserve species and habitats, and governments which have to make the decisions that affect the balance between human needs and those of conservation. Too often, it is one or the other, rather than a serious attempt to empower local people, benefit them and so provide real incentives for struggling, impoverished rural communities to see wildlife as a benefit rather than an obstacle.

To understand the complexity, one needs to look at the case of the Maasai Mara and the Maasai pastoralists and then broaden the picture out to consider the future of conservation and community development across the continent, where the same problems are often replicated to the detriment of people, wildlife and protected areas.  The Maasai living around the reserve are traditionally cattle herders, measuring wealth largely through the size of their herds. Under colonialism and under the governments of independent they have been moved off land set aside for parks or reserves and restricted in their access to land and water.  Changing land ownership and utilization practices and regulations have affected their freedom of movement.  Moves by successive governments to establish individual rather than community ownership and to sub-divide land previously owned communally has led to the fencing of rangeland, restriction of cattle and wildlife movement to follow seasonal grazing, increasing conflict within the community between rich and poor, the powerless and the politically powerful, and ever greater human-wildlife conflict. The process of change has involved considerable corruption and land-grabbing by senior politicians and public officials in league with local clients in the Maasai community. Maasai pastoralists deprived of traditional migration routes or hemmed in by fenced-off land owned or claimed by political grandees and the local recipients of their patronage, have forced communities to look for grazing elsewhere and made them even more angry overo the economic costs of loss of livestock to predators.

Copyright – Jonathan and Angela Scott

Copyright – Jonathan and Angela Scott

The herders accused of killing the Marsh Pride lions, Simindei Naurori and Kulangash Toposat, have been charged with the poisoning and could be handed life sentences or fined Sh20 million each – a sum poor herders would be incapable of raising.  If they are found guilty, justice of a sort will have been seen to have been done. But they are victims as much as the lions and other wildlife (probably vultures and hyenas) which will have died from eating poisoned remains of three cows killed by the lions.  If they entered the reserve to graze their animals and then poisoned carcasses of cattle killed by lions then they will have broken the law, but broken it not to poach for substantial gain but to survive in an increasingly harsh habitat and economic environment in which their options as pastoralists are forever narrowing.  Paula Kahumbu, CEO of Kenya’s Wild Direct NGO, is a fervent supporter of wildlife conservation but she sums up the situation well when she says that local communities must be provided with a role and incentive to coexist with wildlife and become part of conservation but that “Currently there are only costs for living with lions. No rewards”.  Local communities have to have income, they have to feed, clothe and educate their children.  For many, cattle are the only realistic source of income. But sub-division of land, land grabs, loss of land for building houses, for arable farming, reduce the opportunities for local people to survive, let alone improve incomes and living standards.  In such as situation, they will break the law if they feel they have no other option and will break it regularly if they can do so with impunity because of a lack of serious attention to the wider issue by government (local and national) and corruption, mismanagement and under-funding of the Kenya Wild life Service, which means that regulations aren’t enforced.

The Mara reserve is not a national park run by central government. It is owned and run by Narok County and its governor and council.  Park fees and other earnings from the massive tourist industry are routed through the Narok authorities and very little goes to local people, who bear the burden of living next to a reserve rich in predators and other wildlife that can damage their livelihoods. Of the reserve fees charged to tourists 55% goes to Narok County Council and 36% to the Mara Conservancy (a private conservation area bordering the reserve). Of the Council’s share, 19% goes to the group ranches bordering the Mara reserve; nine per cent of earnings go to the KAPS company that administers tourist fees.  Little trickles down to rural communities.  The situation is made worse by corruption, with repeated accusations by conservationists and communities over the years that Narok Council is illegally taking money from tourist fees and other income and using it corruptly.

Wikipedia Commons

Wikipedia Commons

In January this year, local communities – supported by some local and national politicians – protested that the Narok Governor and Council were misappropriating the reserve income. Thousands of Maasai marched on the governor’s office in Narok to protest and were met with the use of live ammunition and tear gas by the police. One person was killed and several injured when Kenyan police clashed with Maasai protesting against a local governor they accuse of misappropriating tourism funds from the Maasai Mara game reserve. The Governor,Samuel Tunai,  and his administration were said to be misusing the $80 a day collected from each tourist entering the Mara and income from lodges. A Senator, Stephen ole Ntutu, said Tunai “cannot account for billions of shillings from all financial sources including the Mara. He should be held to account”.  The Kenyan Auditor-General and the Anti-Corruption Commission are investigating use of the funds, but no details of their findings have yet been released.

What the events show, is that local people are angry that they get no benefit, only costs from wildlife conservation and related tourism.  They feel they are in a no-win situation and so break the law, to the detriment of the Mara conservation efforts, the wildlife and ultimately local and national income from wildlife tourism – and the Mara produces in come of around £13m a year. But to them that is a price they will pay to try to survive because the distant and egregiously corrupt system of government is neither responsive to their needs nor prepared to look at ways of empowering them that will enable a workable system of coexistence with conservation and income from wildlife.

This situation is replicated in many conservation or protected area across East and Southern Africa, where local communities suffer loss of land and depredations of lions, leopards, elephants, buffalo or hippos and have little recourse other than to break the law or turn the resources to their advantage by poaching or helping poaching syndicates. Some, like the Maasai in this case, just kill in order, as they see it, to protect their wildlife.  I witnessed the problem in Botswana in July 2015 around the Chobe National Park.  The banning of commercial or subsistence hunting by local people has resulted not in preservation of species but in greater assistance by locals to outside poaching syndicates and to the poisoning of lions to protect stock, provide bones to sell for use in Chinese medicine and to prevent the discovery of the carcasses of poached elephants. A poorly-thought out conservation measure has had the opposite effect to that intended.

Kenya must address the real issues of protecting the Mara and its lions and not opt for quick, cosmetic solutions that do not dig down and get to the roots of the problem. Jonathan Scott, not surprisingly, wants measures to stop all grazing in the Mara’s protected areas. But he says, “There are no easy solutions to please everyone.” And the government and wildlife authorities must recognise that this “is a failure on the part of the administration at both local and national level. Kenya needs tourism – it pays the bill for protecting our wilderness and provides employment…and generates millions of dollars each year for Narok County”. He goes on, in his blog response to the deaths of the lions, to call for it to be a catalyst for change in “addressing the complex issues that need to be resolved if wildlife and local communities are to prosper side by side”.

He is right, but the problem is finding formulas (and they will differ from country to country, from locality to locality) that will empower people, provide income and incentivise them to actively aid conservation.  Kenya already has some examples that are making progress – the Northern Rangelands Trust in the Samburu-Laikipia area, the Tsavo Trust , the Mara Conservancy and Calvin Cottar’s concept of Payment for Environmental Services (PES), the latter involving the leasing of land from communities for wildlife conservation.  But they are small-scale, rely on donations or benefactors to pay for the projects that provide income and fund conservation and anti-poaching. They are also constantly subject to the vagaries of a political system riddled with corruption, patronage and a failure to join up development and conservation in rural areas. A glimmer of light, perhaps, and one that needs to be nurtured in a hostile environment.


Keith Somerville is a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, University of London; he teaches at the Centre for Journalism at the University of Kent; his book Africa’s Long Road Sine Independence. The Many Histories of a Continent is published on 14 January 2016 by Hurst and Co, and he has just completed the manuscript of a work on the history and political economy of the ivory trade in Africa.

Human Rights are Never Domestic

By Henning Melber, ICWS Senior Fellow

ONCE upon a time, anti-colonial movements were fighting for human rights against oppression and injustice. Representatives of these agencies claimed a moral high ground.

As the “Wretched of the Earth” they expected and demanded international support for their legitimate goals and appealed to a global consciousness, which translated into international solidarity.

Many of the transitions toward self-determination were supported by such acts of solidarity. Considered as a “trust betrayed”, Namibia was a special case.

swapo

SWAPO

The United Nations General Assembly declared Swapo the sole and authentic representative of the Namibian people”. Numerous campaigns exercised practical support, collected money, offered humanitarian assistance, took care of needs. Namibian independence was a triumph of collective responsibility based on moral principles.

International solidarity in our and many other cases was based on intervention. How else was apartheid declared a crime against humanity and those fighting the system supported it [through many forms], including sanctions?

Some forms of such solidarity have survived. The position of the Namibian government as regards the people of the Western Sahara and Palestine are prominent cases in point. Morocco and Israel surely consider this as an undue intervention into what they claim to be domestic affairs.

They are, of course, wrong. It is indeed a matter of international solidarity, siding with the oppressed, advocating their rights and thereby also promoting fundamental human rights universally.

673px-International_Criminal_Court_logo_svg

ICC- International Criminal Court

So how about the announcement that Namibia withdraws from the International Criminal Court (ICC) because it has become, according to President Geingob, an “abomination”? Namibia was – like more than 30 other African states – a signatory to the Rome Treaty and ratified early this century the ICC with its jurisdiction. Unfortunately (though not surprisingly), the most powerful countries did not do so.

The ICC subsequently implemented its mandate (with numerous Africans holding crucial positions as prosecutors and judges) with regard to investigating cases of mass violence, war crimes and crimes against humanity bordering on genocide. These cases were mainly (but not exclusively) in Africa, where most states had actively supported and signed the international treaties.

Most interventions of the ICC were initiated upon direct request from African states. In two cases (Kenya and Sudan), however, sitting presidents were implicated in acts of mass violence, which required ICC investigations.

Let us recall what we can more or less safely establish as facts in both cases: in Sudan at least an estimated 300 000 people died as a direct result of what can be qualified as state terror and war against minorities. In Kenya, investigations wanted to establish who was responsible and accountable for the deaths of several thousand people as part of election campaigns turning abhorrently violent. Notably, this was an initiative confined to a hearing.

If there is anything abominable, that is surely what happened in both countries, [against weak and most vulnerable fellow Africans]. And if there is something like international solidarity, then one could assume it demands from others not to be bystanders, which amounts to tolerating and thus endorsing state terror.

Is this what Namibia identifies with? Are we proud of abandoning an obligation to jealously guard human rights? And our only defence is that these were not committed by “imperialists” but “friends” or that powerful countries have not signed up to support the ICC?

Indeed, the ICC has no mandate to prosecute citizens of countries that have not signed up to or ratified the treaty (for example the United States, China, Russia, North Korea, India and Iran). But would that not be reason to embark on a worldwide campaign to name and shame and increase the pressure on these states? Russia, China, North Korea and Iran are so-called all-weather friends of Namibia. What about our principled respect for international human rights standards?

We should take a stance in favour of international solidarity with the oppressed, with the tortured and the maimed as others did in our own case. It would indeed share the understanding that “an injury to one is an injury to all”.

It would give practical meaning to what the Legal Assistance Centre rightly so responded in a press release to the allegation that the ICC would interfere into domestic affairs: “Human rights abuses are never a domestic affair. The words say it all – human rights belong to all humans – whatever their nationality and geographical location.”

We claimed that much, that apartheid could not be reduced to a domestic affair. It was a matter of international law and solidarity. Similarly, we should fight for anyone subjected to state terror and violence everywhere, instead of abandoning the moral high ground because a few friends have no moral compass. One cannot protect injustices by protecting and promoting other injustices. Two wrongs do not make a right.

A true abomination is being in the cosy company of rogue states and leaders, who have all reason to avoid being taken to task for atrocities they commit.

-Henning Melber joined Swapo in 1974.

Originally published by The Namibian

 

Baroness Patricia Scotland: The Sixth Secretary General of the Commonwealth

By Dr Eva Namusoke, Postdoctoral Research Officer, Institute of Commonwealth Studies

After months of campaigning in the quiet corners of diplomatic offices, online on social media and in speeches from Gaborone to Valletta, the Commonwealth heads of government voted on the 27th November, and Baroness Patricia Scotland will be the next Commonwealth Secretary General. Baroness Scotland, born in Dominica and raised in the UK, will be the first woman to take on the position in a historic moment that has dominated press on her election. The election – held in a closed session – was particularly close, ran over an hour late, and required three rounds of voting before the unanimous decision in favour of Baroness Scotland was made.

L-R: Outgoing Secretary General Kamalesh Sharma, Baroness Patricia Scotland, Prime Minister of Malta Joseph Muscat. Copyright – Shane P. Watts Photography

In the days before the 2015 CHOGM began in Malta, four summits showcased the work of increasingly vocal groups within the Commonwealth. While the Commonwealth Business Forum focused on promoting trade between member states and beyond, it was the Commonwealth People’s Forum (CPF), the Commonwealth Youth Forum (CYF), and the Commonwealth Women’s Forum (CWF) where boundaries were pushed and the potential for the 65 year old organisation was clearest. At the CPF one key theme was the promotion of LGBTI rights with the forum hosting the first LGBTI session at a Commonwealth summit. This is a particularly pressing issue for a Commonwealth where 40 of the 54 member states criminalise same-sex sexual behaviour; these 40 states make up more than half of the total number of countries globally where same-sex sexual behaviour is illegal.[1] While the Commonwealth Heads of Government Leaders’ Statement on the conclusion of the CHOGM mentioned the leaders’ commitments to addressing issues including terrorism, sustainable development, migration and climate change, the advancement of rights for LGBTI individuals was conspicuously – though perhaps unsurprisingly – absent. Soon after her election, Baroness Scotland stated that this would be one of her priorities in her first two years in leadership.

Ahead of the Secretary General election, the CPF was granted a dialogue with the 3 candidates, allowing leaders in civil society to engage with candidates for the first time in Commonwealth history. In a development that surely signalled an understanding of the calls for greater transparency in the election, the event was live-streamed. The three candidates presented their visions for the Commonwealth and were asked questions by individuals representing a range of civil society organisations across the member states. Masire-Mwamba, Sir Ronald and Baroness Scotland fielded questions on the pressing issues of the day, specifically climate change, gender equality, LGBTI rights and the rights of indigenous peoples. Masire-Mwamba emphasised the important role that can be played by civil society, Baroness Scotland referred to her work in UK government and Sir Ronald described his efforts in the Commonwealth Eminent Persons Group.

The fact that the summit included a Commonwealth Women’s Forum this year is another new development. The CWF provided an opportunity for female leaders in the Commonwealth to express their frustrations and hopes for the organisation with the keynote given by UN Women Deputy Executive Director, Lakshmi Puri, and supported by Head of Gender at the Commonwealth Secretariat, Amelia Kinahoi-Siamomua. In a document presented to the CHOGM, the CWF called for legally enforced quotas and reserved seats for women, part of a bid to increase representation, with one key declaration: “no decision should be made at any political level without women in the room.” This was a particularly pointed comment addressed at an overwhelmingly male CHOGM where only 3 of the 53 individuals eligible to vote for the next Secretary General were women. With the election of Baroness Scotland, it appears that there will – at the very highest level – be at least one woman in the room.

So what next for the incoming leader of an organisation that has been struggling to maintain its relevance in a world increasingly made up of powerful regional and international organisations? The first task for Baroness Scotland, as with previous secretary generals, will be to take stock, learn from her predecessor and possibly hire new personnel. One of Sir Sonny’s (Secretary General 1975-1990) earliest decisions was following on from his predecessor Arnold Smith’s work and sending a team – including future Secretary General Chief Emeka – to Mozambique to discuss Commonwealth assistance to the country’s move towards independence. For Chief Emeka Anyaoku (1990-2000), his term was preceded by a 6 month retreat, and one of his earliest tasks was encouraging African states to honour the 1991 Harare Declaration. In contrast, his successor Sir Don McKinnon (2000-2008) had an uncomfortable start to his term with Chief Emeka deciding to vacate his office months after the termination of his contract. Chief Emeka and Sir Don did, however, spend the week before Sir Don took office meeting every day to discuss the role of Secretary General. Eighteen months into his term, in the aftermath of September 11th, Sir Don was forced to cancel the upcoming CHOGM and react to the pressures of the international ‘War on Terror’. The impression from these three former secretary generals is that each leader approached the position with ideas about the future of the organisation, that each had to first build or build on personal relationships with Commonwealth leaders, and that their work was driven by the particular historical moment in which they lived.

One important issue for Baroness Scotland will be balancing her Dominican and British identity. As The Independent noted, Baroness Scotland is the first UK citizen to hold the post of Secretary General. While Baroness Scotland stressed her Dominican, Antiguan and African heritage and called herself ‘a child of the Commonwealth,’ her life spent in the UK, and work in the British government spanning almost 20 years will likely affect how she approaches her role as leader of the Commonwealth. The Minister of Foreign Affairs for Antigua and Barbuda, Charles Fernandez, discussed the voting process at the 2015 CHOGM with Antigua’s Observer media. Sir Ronald apparently had the lowest number of votes after the first round, leaving Baroness Scotland and Masire-Mwamba in the running. According to Fernandez, Antigua backed the Caribbean candidate in the second round: ‘We went up against Africa on one hand, and the other (voting) bloc of the Europeans. As you know, Baroness Scotland is a member of the English Parliament. They openly lobbied very heavily for her.’ Furthermore, according to Fernandez, Baroness Scotland had the support of the Pacific nations and Australia and this, combined with Malta and Cyprus’ support, secured her victory. The most salient point of Fernandez’ statement is the reference to Baroness Scotland’s position in the British Parliament. Prime Minister David Cameron had not publically shown support for her, and Baroness Scotland herself had emphasised her Caribbean roots in her campaign; however the contention of the Antiguan minister is that it was ultimately her European, specifically British, political connections that led to her election.

Baroness Scotland’s election  doesn’t mean a return to the “British Commonwealth” as one particularly incensed Caribbean media source reported, but her ties to Great Britain may come into question if she takes a stand on the issues where there is strong disagreement between member states, none more so than LGBTI rights. Baroness Scotland is clearly aware of these difficulties, and stated in her first press conference: “Human rights and development go hand in hand. We will walk with and work with our partners to help everyone appreciate human dignity.” Whatever her first move as Secretary General, her stance on polemic issues or her legacy as a leader, Baroness Scotland is keen to recognise the important moment of her election; her final words immediately after her election: “I am incredibly proud to be the first woman Secretary General.”

[1] Corinne Lennox and Matthew Waites ,‘Human rights, sexual orientation and gender identity in the Commonwealth: from history and law to developing activism and transnational dialogues’ in Human Rights, Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity in The Commonwealth: Struggles for Decriminalisation and Change,  Corinne Lennox and Matthew Waites (eds.), (London, 2013) p. 1-6. http://commonwealth.sas.ac.uk/publications/house-publications/lgbt-rights-commonwealth

Copyright – Shane P. Watts Photography

Copyright – Shane P. Watts Photography

Thatcher’s top secret plan to destabilise the Ethiopian government

by Martin Plaut, Senior Research Fellow, ICWS

Newly-released documents show that in 1985, the PM wrote to the Foreign Office seeking action on the Marxist and pro-Soviet regime in Ethiopia. Towards the end of 1985, at the height of the worst famine in modern Ethiopian history, Margaret Thatcher contemplated helping to topple the Ethiopian government. The documents – marked Top Secret and Personal – have now been placed in the National Archive.

Margaret_Thatcher

Margaret Thatcher

The British prime minister had long made no bones about how much she disliked the military regime led by Colonel Mengistu Haile Mariam. The British government was among the most generous donors to the Ethiopian famine appeal, but the regime itself – Marxist and pro-Soviet – was exactly the kind of authority Thatcher loathed.

By late 1985 the prime minister’s patience was wearing thin. Charles Powell, her private secretary, wrote to the Foreign Office asking what steps might be taken. The FCO, taking is normal, cautious approach wrote back on 27 November saying that: “Barring an assassin’s bullet, Mengistu looks secure, and the opposition movements inside and outside Ethiopia remain deeply divided. The choice is between seeking to influence the present regime, and a policy of containment.”

This did not satisfy Thatcher at all.

“The Prime Minister continues to believe that it is not enough just to jog along in our relations with the distasteful regime in Ethiopia,” came the reply from her private office, just two days later. “If the conclusion is that our present relations offer no serious scope for exercising beneficial and positive influence, she would like serious thought given to ways in which we could make life harder for the Ethiopian regime. These might, as examples, include:”

The letter then lists four options – the first two of which were explosive.

“i) support for the rebels in Eritrea and Tigray;

ii) a more active effort in conjunction with the Americans to identify and perhaps encourage opponents of Mengistu within Ethiopia”

The other two options were more conventional: asking other western powers to criticise the Ethiopian government and taking a “more robust line” when examples emerge of the abuse of aid.

The Foreign Office – and Geoffrey Howe as foreign secretary – must have found these suggestions very hard to digest. Certainly it took some more than a month for a suitable response to be drafted. “The Foreign Secretary agrees that jogging along with the Ethiopian regime would not be right,” came the reply on 10 January 1986.

But, noting that some progress was being made, the Foreign Office urged caution. Backing the rebels would – Sir Geoffrey believed – not work, driving Mengistu further into the arms of the Soviets and (a killer argument with Mrs T) it was also noted that the Eritrean and Tigrayan rebel leaders were “…as extreme in their broadly Marxist political attitudes as the Derg [the Ethiopian government].”

The letter concludes: “We do not believe that support for the rebels would work to our advantage.”

What is interesting to note is that the British government was – if this correspondence is to be believed – unaware that aid that international charities were providing through the Sudan based rebel movements was already being diverted to purchase weapons. A programme I produced for the BBC in 2010  detailed this evidence.

Bob Geldof objected – saying that none of Band Aid’s money had gone astray (a suggestion the programme never made). The BBC Trust apologised to Geldof for the apparent mistake.

I was subsequently contacted by the head of a major British aid agency who substantiated the claims that aid had gone astray, without commenting on which agency’s resources had been used to buy arms and ammunition.

Originally published by the New Statesman