UK-Africa Relations Seminar Series Part 3

15 Dec

Back in late October I made the short trip to the University of Warwick to attend the third of seven seminars in an ESRC series I am co-organising on UK-Africa relations. Elsewhere on this blog you can read my reports on the opening seminar on ‘Contemporary UK-Africa Relations in Historical Perspective‘ and the second meeting on ‘Development Policy‘. If you are interested in following the rest of the series there is also a twitter feed: @UKAfricaSeminar.

One of the joys of being involved in these seminar series is that you get to broaden your horizons beyond your own (often fairly narrow) research interests. This was certainly the case for me as the theme of this third seminar was ‘Security, stability and conflict management in UK-Africa relations’. What follows is a brief summary of the discussions and a few personal reflections.

The opening session of the day was led by a representative from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) and Knox Chitiyo (Chatham House). Together these two presentations highlighted how in reality all aspects of the UK’s policy to Africa can be considered to be about ‘security’ when we think about security in the broader sense. Moreover, as with all the other aspects of UK-Africa relations considered in the seminar series, security matters take place within a broader international context, where the UK is by no means the only actor. For example, Knox Chitiyo suggested that much of the UK’s military engagement with Africa is now done multilaterally via the EU, UN, etc. He also introduced the important question of ‘African agency’ into the discussion, which was a theme of a previous ESRC seminar series I attended back in 2011. Although there are some moves towards Africa becoming a partner in UK policy formulation, Knox made a convincing case for suggesting that the UK still has some way to go in moving to a position where it conducts security policy with, rather than to, Africa.

The two panels in the afternoon were organised geographically, one being focused on West Africa and the other on East Africa. All four presentations highlighted some of the limitations of the UK’s contribution to international engagement on various different issues. Zoe Marks (University of Edinburgh) highlighted the dilemmas inherent to the UK’s response to issues of gender and security. Although the UK, and William Hague in particular, has recently led the ‘Preventing Sexual Violence Initiative‘ there are problems with the way sexual violence is portrayed as exceptional in times of conflict. Jonathan Fisher (University of Birmingham) considered the UK’s response to the crisis in South Sudan. He highlighted how the coalition has moved away from a position, based on an assumption of a responsibility to try and solve such conflicts, to one where stabilisation and support for regional actors is key. The afternoon concluded with a powerful critique of UK policy to Kenya from David Anderson (University of Warwick).

One of the broad themes that came out of the day’s discussions was how we understand the relationship between ‘security’ and ‘development’. Is (or in fact should) all UK policy to Africa be framed as ‘security’ or rather should ‘development’ be more prominent? As Eka Ikpe demonstrated in her discussion of the Boko Haram crisis, the international response has largely been defined in terms of ‘counter-terrorism’, when the root causes of the conflict lie in the fact that Northern Nigeria is economically disadvantaged. This relates to more practical concerns for UK policy-making. The need for more ‘joined-up’ thinking remains pertinent and, in the case of Africa in particular, sometimes the Department for International Development (DFID) and the FCO adopt very different strategies in the same partner countries.

The seminar series continues in the new year with events at Chatham House, Oxford Brookes University, the Institute for Public Policy Research and then the seventh and final seminar is due to be held at the British Institute in Eastern Africa, Nairobi.

Teaching South African Politics

25 Nov

A few months back I was asked to make a film where I summarise my undergraduate module on ‘South African Politics: from Apartheid to Democracy’ in just one minute! Here is the final edited version.

After 2015: Critically Engaging with Global Development

15 Sep

Last week I had the privilege of spending two days at a thoroughly inspiring and engaging conference entitled ‘After 2015: Development and its Alternatives‘ held at the British Academy in London. As I am sure my academic colleagues would agree, the words ‘inspiring’ and ‘engaging’ are not always associated with some of the conferences we attend. Not least it has provoked me to write another blog post after a summer of inactivity!

The remit of the conference was to critically reflect on the state of international development policy since the UN Millennium Summit in 2000, which famously prompted the formulation of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). There are eight headline MDGs and these are underpinned by eighteen statistical targets. With the MDGs due to expire in 2015 the second main focus of the discussions was to consider what development alternatives we might envisage in the future.

During the discussions on the first day, the MDGs were described by some as a ‘trojan horse’ that have allowed the broader challenges of development to gain more significance in the minds of policymakers. In particular, Jan Vandemoortele, who during his time working for the United Nations played a role in designing the MDGs, suggested that their simplicity meant they passed his “Grandma test”! In other words, his Grandma (i.e. the wider public) would be able to understand them. I am all in favour of resisting the attempt by many academics (and policymakers) to obfuscate. In fact part of the reason for creating this blog was precisely to engage with the wider public in a format that has broader appeal.

Nevertheless, simplifying the challenge of global development to eight goals with a range of associated numerical targets does result in a specific framing of how we understand and talk about development. For example, David Hulme in his presentation at the conference, highlighted how the MDGs have set a path of results-based performance management that is now largely uncontested. It has certainly struck me, over recent years, how many of the students taking my classes on ‘International Development’ were aware of the MDGs, but how few have felt it necessary to question their underlying logic. After all, who can argue against the goal of ‘eradicating extreme poverty and hunger’?

When we are considering the development chances of over 7 billion people, maybe the reality is that things aren’t necessarily this simple. As a number of participants at the conference convincingly argued, a focus on goals and targets distracts our attention away from interrogating the way the global political economy is organised. How is it run and in whose interests? It is only then that we start to discover many of the obstacles to human development.

If we are going to reflect on the contemporary prospects for global development then we would be better served by starting our analysis by considering the continued push to further embed the market and the rights of capital into all corners of the globe. For example, the rise of bilateral trade and investment agreements negotiated in the first instance between major trading powers and a number of developing countries/regions and now between the EU and the United States (the so-called Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership) has tipped the balance even further in favour of transnational capital. It is only when we have put the politics of the global economy back into the discussion that we can have an informed discussion about whether these developments are more, or less likely, to achieve the kinds of development outcomes envisaged in the MDGs.

The second day of the conference began with a thought-provoking presentation by Carl Death and Clive Gabay. Rather than dismiss out of hand the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), proposed as the way forward after the expiry of the MDGs in 2015, their discussion considered the possibilities they might offer for transformation. They made a convincing case as to the significant differences between what is being proposed in the SDGs when compared to the MDGs. In particular:

  1. the global focus of the SDGs compared to the MDGs which were essentially aimed at the planet’s ‘bottom billion’;
  2. the inclusion of new issues such as labour rights and inequality that also pose direct challenges for Western states.

From this they concluded there was radical potential – with an emphasis on the word ‘potential’ – in the SDGs.

There is much to admire in their attempt to subvert the prospect of the SDGs turning into more of the same. The question I have is the extent to which the target-driven focus of the SDGs automatically prevents any radical outcomes. This is a caveat they acknowledged and it returns us back to the issue of targets and their impacts. The current plan for the SDGs is to increase the number of goals from eight to seventeen. The consequence of which is a dramatic rise in the overall number of targets. The experience of those of us working in an increasingly target-dominated public sector in the UK know only too well the subversive practices that result from a ‘measurement agenda’ and the setting of targets. James Scott had described this as the ‘audit society’ on the first day of the conference.

The question is whether global development targets are far enough removed from those on the ground to avoid the sorts of subversive practice that ensues when targets are used to audit human behaviour. Moreover, targets imply a conceptualisation of development in strictly quantitative terms and as many of the participants at the conference demonstrated, this limits our imaginations in a number of ways.

The final panel of the conference sought to take us beyond such limits. It included a range of first-hand accounts of lived alternatives to the mainstream development paradigm. Together they also demonstrated the potential consequences of a world that is further opened up to the interests of capital in the name of development.

Particularly inspirational for me was Carlos Zorrilla from Ecuador, who gave us a powerful account of his involvement in a long-running resistance movement against the prospect of open copper mines in the region of Intag. He highlighted how both World Bank policy and domestic state interests have conspired to encourage a vision of development that is both environmentally damaging and opposed by local people. He outlined the threats he has faced as a result, not least from the Ecuadorian state itself, but also the achievements that such collective resistance can realise. Carlos also alerted the audience to the 2008 film ‘Under Rich Earth‘ which documents some of these achievements.

Overall, I must thank the organisers of the conference for creating such an open forum for discussion over the two days. I returned home motivated and re-energised.

UK-Africa Relations Seminar Series Part 2

17 Jun

Last month I enjoyed a day-trip to the University of Birmingham to attend the second of an ESRC-funded seminar series on UK-Africa relations, which I am involved in organising. More details on the seminar series are available at our website – http://www.open.ac.uk/socialsciences/bisa-africa/uk-africa-policy. You can also follow the twitter feed of the seminar series on @UKAfricaSeminar.

Our second session focused on ‘Development Policy in UK-Africa relations: From New Labour to Coalition and Austerity’. I thought I would share a brief summaryof the presentations and debates that took place and conclude with some of my own thoughts.

The opening presentation saw two distingushed speakers, with significant practitioner experience, provide their thoughts on how UK-Africa relations have developed over the years. We heard from Miles Wickstead who acted as the head of the secretariat to the Commission for Africa formed during Tony Blair’s time as Prime Minister. His comments were supported by intejections from Barrie Ireton, a former Director General of the UK’s Departent for International Development (DFID).

Miles Wickstead outlined what he saw as the defining moments in the UK government’s relations with Africa. Key historical points in the relationship were identified as the end of the Cold War and then the election of New Labour and the creation of DFID. He then offered some insights from his work with the Commission for Africa (CfA). The CfA’s report was published in 2005 and it became a key document for the G8 Gleneagles summit later that year. He concluded that of the three key elements of the CfA’s report – debt relief, more aid and trade justice – it is the latter that has seen the least progress.

We then heard from Kirsty McNeill who reflected on her time as a former Downing Street adviser during New Labour’s term of office. She spoke on ‘Idealism or Interests: What really drove Labour’s Africa Policy?’. The central argument was that the focus on Africa was based on idealism and not interests – development is not a big vote winner. There were also some concluding thoughts on current debates within the Labour Party and reference was made to a recent speech by Jim Murphy MP, who is currently Shadow Secretary of State for International Development. This speech maps out an agenda for Labour if they return to govermnent in 2015 and it is pleasing to see that equality and the rights of workers now form a more central part of the analysis.

After lunch Donna Arrondelle (University College London) and Meera Sebaratnam (School of Oriental and African Studies) moved the discussion forward to a focus on the coalition government. Donna spoke about her doctoral research, which is concerned with how the UK’s current international development policy is framed – particularly in terms of the problems that are identified – and how this relates to public understandings of development. Meanwhile, Meera argued that under the coalition the biggest changes in development policy have been an increased emphasis on results and a portrayal of aid as being part of the national interest.

The day concluded with a virtual presentation, via youtube, from Jonathan Glennie (Overseas Development Institute). He argued that aid is one of the least important things that the UK can do to support African development and that it needs to be assessed, not simply in terms of how many schools have been built, etc., but with reference to the wider impacts that result from a long-term reliance on aid.

Overall, another fascinating day of debate and discussions. To conclude I thought I would share some of the thoughts/questions that I scribbled down during my train journey home:

  1. To what extent has the global context for aid changed since the days when New Labour came into power in 1997? Will there be as much focus on Africa if Labour return to power in 2015? Is the UK an increasingly peripheral player?
  2. Is a focus on aid and its effectiveness missing the wider issue of the way the global economy is organised? In partiuclar, do we need to look more at how multilateral and bilateral trade agreements continue to create obstacles to African development?
  3. Why have the Liberal Democrats been so silent on Africa and development policy more broadly during their time in government?

The next meeting takes place at the University of Warwick on 23 September 2014.

A big election win for South Africa’s ANC, but results suggest future challenges

10 May

This piece was originally published on The Conversation at https://theconversation.com/a-big-election-win-for-south-africas-anc-but-results-suggest-future-challenges-26418

On the surface, 2014 appears to represent “business as usual” for the landscape of South Africa’s electoral politics. The African National Congress (ANC) has secured a fifth straight victory in the latest national election. The ANC polled 62.1% of the total valid votes cast. This represents only a slight fall of 3.8% from its overall performance in the previous poll in 2009.

Despite the good result for President Jacob Zuma’s ruling party, deeper analysis, combined with some interesting developments in recent months, suggests that in fact the ANC faces a number of future challenges.

Internal dissent

The ANC’s most recent victory has been achieved despite the deepening crisis of poverty, unemployment and inequality. Its election campaign, summed up in the slogan, “we have a good story to tell”, focused on its credentials as the party that overcame apartheid. There is an increasing tendency for the ANC to focus on past achievements to secure its contemporary legitimacy.

Nevertheless, a few significant figures within the ANC, including stalwart of the liberation struggle and former government minister Ronnie Kasrils, launched a “Vote No” campaign in the run-up to the election. Their dissatisfaction with the performance of the ANC in government led them to urge South Africans to either vote for one of the smaller parties or spoil their ballot paper by writing the message “no” on it.

The precise impact of this campaign is hard to measure. Only 1.4% of votes were spoilt (intentionally or otherwise) and the majority of smaller parties failed to secure even a single representative in the National Assembly. However, it is symptomatic of a rising tide of criticism of the ANC, reflected in both popular protest and discontent within parts of the labour movement.

Voter registration and turnout

Turnout of the electorate is one area that demonstrates the more partial nature of support for the ruling party. The official figure this year was 73.4%, down from 77.3% in 2009. However, this only represents the proportion of the 25.4 million South Africans who registered to vote in the first place.

Based on recent population data for mid-2013 it is estimated that the current voting age population is approximately 32.6 million. The 11.4 million votes for the ANC in the national ballot therefore only represents 35% of the voting age population. Moreover, registration levels are particularly low amongst younger voters. Only 60% of 20-somethings were registered, according to the Electoral Commission, compared to 90% of those over the age of 30. This disengagement from the electoral process may become even more of a challenge in the future.

Opposition parties are making inroads

The ANC’s support also varies on a regional basis. In 2009, its share of the vote fell in every single province except KwaZulu-Natal, Zuma’s home province.

This time the main opposition party, the Democratic Alliance (DA), achieved a stronger showing nationally and has repeated its 2009 success as the leading party in the Western Cape. The DA has also made progress in Gauteng (South Africa’s most populous province), where the ANC’s share fell significantly from 64% in 2009 to 55% in 2014.

One noticeable result in 2014 has been the relatively strong showing (6.4% of the national vote) of the recently formed Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF). Led by former ANC Youth League leader, Julius Malema, their populist brand of black African nationalism, couched in left-wing rhetoric, has benefited from the continued absence of a more genuine left-wing alternative to the ANC. The EFF’s focus on the nationalisation of strategic sectors of the economy and land redistribution without compensation clearly has some resonance with sections of the poor black majority.

2009: room for a party of the left?

The ANC and DA are both committed to the broadly neoliberal, National Development Plan, as the solution to the deepening socio-economic crisis in the country. What are the prospects for a viable political alternative?

During recent months, tensions within South Africa’s largest trade union confederation, the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), have reached breaking point. As a result, it is becoming clear that the potential formation of a left-wing political movement is on the horizon.

COSATU’s largest affiliated trade union, the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA), withdrew its electoral support for the ANC in December 2013. Since then it has begun the process of building a new political movement. The intention is to develop links beyond the organised working class by engaging with a number of the “new social movements” that have emerged since the late 1990s. Resistance in South Africa in the form of political protest has been on the rise and the very real challenge for NUMSA and others will be how to co-ordinate these actions, which at present remain localised and largely unconnected.

Predictions of the ANC’s imminent electoral decline made prior to the 2014 elections have proven to be wide of the mark. There are a number of reasons, however, to suggest that things may look very different when South Africa holds its next national poll in 2019.

The re-awakening of ‘the left’ in post-apartheid South Africa?

31 Mar

Last week I finished a piece for the ‘Africa at LSE’ blog on the state of ‘the left’ in post-apartheid South Africa. They will be running a series of articles reflecting on twenty years of democracy in South Africa. You can find it here.

Trade Union Solidarity and Free Trade

25 Feb

Do trade unions matter in the Twenty-First Century? How are they responding to ongoing processes of neoliberal restructuring? In particular, what obstacles do they face in developing transnational solidarity against the rise of free trade? What is clear is that national labour movements in different parts of the world have, at times, responded differently to the deepening of trade liberalisation in recent years. This is because the immediate impact they face differs depending on their place within the structure of the global economy.

In a new academic article published earlier this month I explore these questions through a study of how the biggest trade union federation in South Africa – the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) – has reacted to both multilateral and bilateral trade liberalisation. COSATU

The article forms part of a special issue of the journal Globalizations, which considers the theme of ‘Free Trade and Transnational Labour’. My contribution also considers the extent to which COSATU has engaged in building transnational links with labour movements outside of South Africa and how effective these attempts have been.

COSATU was formed in 1985 and since the end of apartheid its membership has grown significantly. At its most recent National Congress in 2012 it reported a total of 2.2 million members across its 21 affiliated trade unions.

The post-apartheid era in South Africa has seen the government embrace the free trade agenda. This was most clearly demonstrated when it adopted its Growth, Employment and Redistribution (GEAR) strategy way back in 1996. Despite criticism from COSATU, this represented an acceptance of the neoliberal development model, and in particular the need for South Africa to unilaterally reduce its barriers to trade. At the time COSATU took the position that a more strategic engagement with the global economy was needed. More recently government policy has, to some extent, begun to reflect such a view. The ‘New Growth Path‘ launched in 2010 does place much more emphasis on employment and an active industrial policy although COSATU’s leadership has expressed some serious concerns that the subsequent ‘National Development Plan‘, which was launched in 2012, undermines this shift in approach.

COSATU has been active, to varying degrees, in seeking to build transnational solidarity against both further trade liberalisation within the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and a number of bilateral negotiations involving South Africa. However, these attempts reveal a number of challenges to transnational labour solidarity in the face of free trade. Ultimately, COSATU is first and foremost a national federation and as such it prioritises the needs of its members. As a result the protection of jobs and working conditions within South Africa are its core remit and a number of obstacles to transnational solidarity remain:

  1. Tensions within COSATU are currently high as a result of its relationship with the African National Congress (ANC) in the form of the tripartite alliance. One of the major unions within COSATU, the National Union of Metalworkers (NUMSA) has broken ranks by refusing to endorse the ANC in the forthcoming elections in May 2014 and has questioned the continued viability of the federation itself. Continuing to be in alliance with the ANC does make it difficult to then provide genuine resistance to the trade liberalisation agenda led by the government.
  2. COSATU’s experience of trying to develop solidarity with the European Trade Union Council (ETUC) over WTO proposals for Non-Agricultural Market Access (NAMA) highlights some of the specific issues faced by trade unions in the Global South. In this case one ETUC member, the European Metalworkers’ Federation, joined forces with the owners of the car industry in Europe to undermine the concerns raised by emerging markets, including South Africa, that NAMA would harm key labour-intensive sectors.
  3. At the regional level similar dynamics can be seen but this time it is COSATU that finds itself defending the interests of the dominant national trading power. During the negotiations towards a Free Trade Area within the Southern African Development Community (SADC), COSATU expressed concerns that the domestic clothing and textiles sector could be undermined by cheaper goods of lower quality produced in other parts of Southern Africa.

Given these difficulties in resolving the positions of different national trade unions maybe we should focus on the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), which claims on its website to represent ‘the global voice of the world’s working people’. However, ITUC’s approach to free trade agreements has been a reformist agenda based on securing the inclusion of basic labour standards to mitigate any negative impacts on workers. This has led to some of COSATU’s affiliates leaving ITUC. They argue that a more radical approach is needed, which seeks to resist the actual introduction of free trade agreements in the first place, rather than one that seeks to ameliorate their impact on labour.

Instead we may look to the Southern Initiative on Globalisation and Trade Union Rights (SIGTUR). Observations on SIGTUR’s most recent Congress do suggest that it may be a more appropriate avenue for federations like COSATU to focus its energies. Whether it can overcome all of the obstacles identified above remains to be seen.

In sum, workers the world over face common challenges in the face of neoliberal globalisation. These processes can be resisted and, despite some of the difficulties identified above, trade unions should continue to seek to develop solidarity across national borders.

* A limited number of free downloads of the full article are available at http://www.tandfonline.com/eprint/IBjNTuYMkh83UQdYKYAB/full