Yao Ming protecting elephants, sister cities, Angola’s elections and more news on “China and Africa”

Yao Ming and the Elephants
I don’t know much about the roles Chinese celebrities play in Chinese politics, but I think it may be significant both for China and Africa that Yao Ming has decided to take up an environmental cause. Working with San Francisco-based WildAid, he is part of a campaign to educate Chinese consumers about the costs of the ivory trade (CS Monitor, FP).

China wants more Sister Cities in Africa
Vice Premier Li Keqiang, as part of the first Forum on China-Africa Local Government Cooperation, announced this new policy objective in Nairobi. On the one hand, he mentioned in his remarks that this would be good for the cities to learn from each other (about common difficulties like pollution and traffic). But on the other hand, he also seemed to signal a business opportunity: “if Shanghai and Nairobi were sister cities we could really make major progress in city construction” (Xinhua).

Angola’s elections and China
This is election week in Angola (the legislative elections, which also determine the presidency, take place August 31st). There is no denying that China has played an important role in Angola’s post-civil war reconstruction over the last decade. But while many Angolans may be happy with the positive roles China plays in the country and its economy, there have been attacks as well. First, not all of China’s business ventures there have been a success. Consider the recent debate about a major residential development project which has high vacancy rates (Global Voices). Indeed, for all the cheap cell phones, new roads, and infrastructure that is helping transform the country, there is also a growing set of concerns about misconceived construction ventures and shoddy construction. Second, there have been continuing concerns about Chinese immigration. A very high profile crackdown on “Chinese gangsters” took place this week (Business Insider). Many of their victims, apparently, were Chinese living in Angola, or who they brought to Angola as prostitutes. Indeed, the story in People’s Daily Online suggested the primary purpose was to protect Chinese nationals abroad. I haven’t seen any explicit connections between this story and the election, but I can imagine that some in the opposition are considering it.

I don’t think that “China” will play an explicit role in determining this election’s outcome. Many other factors determine the concerns of the opposition: continuing poverty, the legacies of the civil war, problems with the government’s record on civil and political rights. But it is clear that continued economic success is what has enabled the current government to stay in power and that China has played a major role in that success.

Other News On “China and Africa”
As we continue to get mixed data about the state of China’s economy and prospects for future growth, many are wondering what kinds of impacts this might have on economic growth in Africa. This is the question in Barbara Njau’s piece at African Arguments.

Deborah Brautigam identifies recent research by Yoon Jung Park on African attitudes towards Chinese immigrants (it varies across countries, is the argument).

Africa Notes: President Banda, changing the game

Joyce Banda’s ascension to the presidency of Malawi has been a game changer for that nation, and could be for Africa as well.

Domestic Game Changer
Politically, up until President Mutharika’s death, it seemed unlikely that Joyce Banda would wield major influence in that country, despite her status as his Vice President. Indeed, the former President Mutharika had seen Banda, his VP, expelled from his party in 2010 (Reuters). Mutharika, however, was facing growing opposition just prior to his death. His disputes with Western donors had led to reduced aid for the country. In an obituary, The Guardian noted that he went “from one of the most respected African leaders to a repressive despot in just two years” (The Guardian). Those frustrations are evident in Lucius Banda’s single “Life”. (h/t habanahaba).

Economically and politically, Malawi seemed headed for disaster.

Enter, Banda.

President Joyce Banda demonstrated she is different from the start. She fired an unpopular police commander and the foreign minister (brother of the former President), reshuffled the cabinet, and made a number of other administrative changes throughout the government (Africa Arguments, Reuters). She is also beginning to intervene in monetary policy, dropping the currency’s peg to the dollar (ICTSD). This may improve export performance.

She–apparently–has also come out in favor of removing bans on homosexuality in that country (though there is some confusion about the extent of this: Kim Dionne)

Donors have returned (Reuters). This may soon include a loan by the IMF as well (African Arguments).

Headlines immediately showed the hope both Malawians and many in the international community have felt:

This is a small, landlocked country, with a population of 15.4 million people, and a gross national per capita income of $330 (BBC). But Banda appears as principled and strong. And it appears that she has changed the situation for that country… for now. As Keith Somerville writes, Banda has brought “Malawi back from the brink.”

Game Changer for Africa
At the continental level, President Banda may prove to be a game changer as well, though her influence will be limited by Malawi’s relatively small stature. Mostly, she has an opportunity to shine as a leader with unique moral authority on the continent. This could stem from…

  • Her example as a woman leader and activist; and
  • Her approach to human and political rights.

The two themes the international media have paid most attention to are her stance on homosexuality and her apparent support for the ICC’s pursuit of al-Bashir. Unfortunately, the media may be getting both of these stories wrong. If she is taking moral stances on these issues, the motivations are muddied, at a minimum, by her clear need to appeal to Western donors for aid.

As has been widely reported, President Banda asked the African Union to prevent Bashir from taking part (Reuters). Now, the real question is her motivation. Unfortunately, any vision we might have of Banda as a visionary Western-style liberal leader may need to be qualified. There are at least two reasons beyond a concern for ethic and human rights for Banda’s decision here. Indeed, she does not clearly say anything about Bashir’s culpability and the moral or even legal implications of allowing him to attend a summit in Malawi.

  • It is about money (I). Malawi’s stated appeal to the AU was based on concerns about donors. The concern seems to be that allowing Bashir would look bad to donors which have only just started to give money again to Malawi. (It is notable too that some donors have suggested that anti-gay policies in Africa could be a reason to suspend or reduce aid.)
  • It is about money (II). Even before she was President, Banda was apparently unhappy with the idea that Malawi would be hosting the summit. As Rebecca Chimjeka reports, when Banda was still the VP she was opposed due to the costs of hosting a summit and the lack of assurances that there would be financial support from the AU or other African leaders. She did eventually receive the assurance, but one can wonder whether she thought that support adequate.

I am not sure what her long-term legacy will be, but Banda does seem to have an opportunity to wield Mandela-like moral authority in Malawi and across the continent. To do that, however, will require an even clearer articulation of a vision for her country and Africa. In the meantime, no one can argue that she has changed her own country’s economic and political situation… for now.

Africa Notes: ECOWAS acts in aftermath of coups

Regional cooperation in West Africa is such a unique thing. Where else do you see cooperation on economic matters appear to be so much more difficult that you switch to cooperating on security? Wasn’t the EU built on precisely the opposite logic?

BBC News – Ecowas to send troops after Mali, Guinea-Bissau coups.

Anyway, BBC (and others) are reporting what we have known would likely happen: ECOWAS is sending troops to deal with the aftermath of coups in Mali and Guinea-Bissau. Doing this in Mali makes a lot of sense to me. The situation is such a mess (political struggles over both regime transition and secession). And we can hope, based on its past, that Mali could return to a peaceful and democratic path once these issues get sorted. Not that this will be easy!

But I wonder if Guinea-Bissau might be a harder case. On the one hand, G-B’s problems are a little more straightforward: this is “just” a coup. But on the other hand, the prospects for a peaceful and democratic path are really pretty bad here. No president has ever finished their term in office. And, as Lesley Anne Warner notes, G-B is indeed quite coup-prone. The country has had twice as many coup incidents (10, including failed and alleged plots) as any other country in Africa since 2000. And that doesn’t even include the assassination of President Vieira in 2009! Reuters has a nice timeline of just a few of the events in their violent past.

All of that leads me to wonder: how will ECOWAS gauge success here? What is the exit strategy? Or are West African leaders trying to send some sort of hard signal to the elites in G-B that business-as-usual (coups every few years) cannot be tolerated? I just don’t quite know at this point.

By the way, in case you are wondering whether Africa has gone “coup-crazy” this year, Jay Ulfelder has a nice analysis that shows that, statistically, we are still within the norm (Dart-Throwing Chimp).

Africa Notes: Charles Taylor, Guilty!

The Special Court of Sierra Leone found Charles Taylor Guilty. Here is the summary of the judgment. As it states, he was found guilty of aiding and abetting the commission of 11 crimes, including terrorism, slavery, rape, and the use of child soldiers.

As a number of observers have noted, the guilty verdict falls short of the prosecution’s goals (The Economist). Mr. Taylor was not held directly responsible for any of these crimes. As Kevin Heller reports:

the judges have rejected the prosecution’s allegations that he participated in a JCE to commit the crimes alleged in the indictment or that he had effective control over the RUF soldiers who committed the crimes (i.e, no ordering or command responsibility).  The verdict represents a colossal victory for Taylor, even if it means that he will still receive a substantial sentence. (Opinio Juris)

However, as Heller also notes, Taylor is the second head of state to be found guilty by an international tribunal. (Before being tried at Nuremberg Karl Doenitz was President of Germany for 23 days after Hitler’s suicide. Milosevic could have been the second but he died before a verdict was reached.) (Opinio Juris).

Despite the weaker verdict, some victims apparently felt that some justice had been done here. Said the sister of one victim:

It’s good, this one is good, it’s a signal to other people that they should not completely use their money on war, ammunition, to destroy lives (Reuters)

Besides Opinio Juris, another good place to look for further reporting on this is IntlLawGrrls.

Africa Notes: Regional Trade and Integration

There has been some interesting online commentary on intra-regional trade in Africa.

Trade between African states may be increasing.
It is commonly observed that trade between African states is below what is typically seen in other regions of the world. However, as noted over at tralac, this might be changing. They quote Aileen Kwa:

In terms of non-oil exports Africa’s internal trade is almost on par with its exports to the EU. Furthermore, the trade growth rate within Africa is the second highest after China and before the United States and the EU. Therefore, it is very promising, also in terms of the quality of exports.

Europe should focus more on regional blocs in Africa
Paul Collier suggests that this might be a good time for Europe to reconsider some of its trade strategy with African states, which has often involved individual trade deals with African governments rather than more efficient engagement with Africa’s regional blocs.

And, as I note in my post on the WTO today, there may be more that Africa’s regional blocs need to do before regional integration succeeds
[Africa Notes: WTO Roundup]

South Africa’s attempt at being a gateway to Africa might be underscoring the need for greater regional integration.
Some discussion has been had regarding whether South Africa is–or can be–a gateway to Africa. Clearly it would like to be in that position. Last month, South Africa launched its Dube TradePort, a new international passenger and cargo airport. According to its website it can handle 7.5 million passengers per year right now and will eventually be able to handle 45 million. Its cargo terminal can handle 100,000 tons per year and eventually will handle 2 million tons (more than what LAX currently handles). However, some say this is not enough. Jacqueline Muna Musiitwa and Charles Wachira have a nice critique of the argument that South Africa is a gateway and note there are other competitors (including Angola) for that title in the near-future. TRALAC reports that SA’s most recent Industrial Policy Action Plan has some clues to some of the key challenges:

trade barriers are not the main impediment to raising Africa’s intraregional trade levels, which remain almost trivial when compared with goods and services flows in other territories.
Instead, the main constraints relate to the absence, or inadequacy, of the physical infrastructure linkages required to facilitate trade flows, as well as the continent’s under- developed production structures, which decreases the opportunity for trade in complementary value-added products. (tralac)

Africa Notes: WTO Roundup

The WTO and Sustainable Development
Lesotho Ambassador Mothae Maruping is the current chair of the WTO’s Committee on Trade and Development. ICTSD has a nice report of their recent meeting and its focus on sustainable development. One thought is how to integrate the WTO’s Aid for Trade program with the goal of developing a green economy. Nevertheless, it is clear that some developing countries may also see the WTO as a shield from any radical green agenda that might try to restrict their ability to trade. The delegate from Benin:

Benin said that the WTO should facilitate the elimination of distorting trade practices related to environment that are “incompatible with sustainable development”. “It is important to avoid creating new trade barriers, imposing new conditions to aid, and deepening the technological gap between developed countries and developing countries

The WTO and Regional Integration within Africa
Peter Draper has a nice discussion of the relevance of WTO rules for regional integration efforts in Africa (ICTSD). He anchors his discussion with consideration of the proposed tripartite preferential trade agreement (T-PTA) between SADC, COMESA, and the EAC (basically uniting southern and eastern Africa). He points to a WTO report which singles some of the issues in maintaining coherence between WTO rules and the rules of these new trade arrangements. His overall conclusion seems to be that the negotiating parties strive to maintain coherence with WTO rules and perhaps even allow the WTO’s help with a “mulilateralizing regionalism” component.

Doha Round
Trying to Move Forward
The BRICS would like to remind us that Doha is not yet dead (MN). Both at their own summit last month and at a G-20 meeting in Mexico, they made this point. The WTO’s Director-General Pascal Lamy continues to try to breathe new life into the round. His most recent innovation is the creation of a 12-person panel of stakeholders which include corporate leaders, former heads of state, and leaders of various international institutions. Former President of Botswana, Festus Mogae is the sole African representative to the panel.

Positive DevelopmentsAgriculture
One of the major sticking points has been agriculture, especially for many African countries. The Doha Round began with a major campaign criticizing European and American farm subsidies and support for undermining agriculture in developing countries. Many of these subsidies continue, but there are some signs of change in Europe, at least. ICTSD reported this week that total EU farm support has dropped a bit and overall trade-distorting support has dropped even further:

Overall trade-distorting support – a category including amber, blue, and de minimis support – reportedly fell to €18.3 billion, a figure that is below the €22 billion cap that would be established under the draft Doha agriculture accord. (ICTSD)

Is Doha Dead?

Monty Python: Not Dead Yet

Noted: BRICS roundup

The BRICS have been very active in recent weeks. The significance of an alliance of Brazil, India, and China is not lost on many. But occasionally some have wondered whether Russia deserves to be in the group and South Africa’s entry last year raised a few eyebrows (and still does).

The Summit
Their summit in New Delhi, held on March 29, included a number of activities that suggest the group is strengthening its institutional bonds. Here is a brief description of some of their outputs:

The Delhi Declaration, capturing the essence of discussion as well as putting forth common position of BRICS countries on various economic and political issues of global and regional importance was issued at the end of the Summit. The Declaration included Delhi Action Plan which highlights the activities to be undertaken under India’s chairmanship of BRICS to further cooperation. Two agreements namely- “Master Agreement on Extending Credit Facility in Local Currencies” and “BRICS Multilateral Letter of Credit Confirmation Facility Agreement”- were signed by the Development Banks from BRICS countries. The Leaders also released “The BRICS Report” focusing on synergies and complementarities between the BRICS economies and highlighting their role as growth drivers of the world economy. An updated edition of BRICS Statistical Publication was also issued at the occasion.

They make a number of bids for their relevance to any future decision-making about the global economy. There is, for instance, this statement in their declaration:

BRICS is a platform for dialogue and cooperation amongst countries that represent 43% of the world’s population, for the promotion of peace, security and development in a multi-polar, inter-dependent and increasingly complex, globalizing world. Coming, as we do, from Asia, Africa, Europe and Latin America, the transcontinental dimension of our interaction adds to its value and significance.

In a recent op-ed, Jeffrey Sachs worries about whether the multi-polar environment signaled by the rise of the BRICS means a loss of leadership at a time when the world needs a clear leader (Business Insider). Jeremiah Kure at Mail & Guardian’s Thought Leader voices a thought commonly heard in some corners of the developing world: maybe it is about time the US and the North Atlantic-led world order change.

The Global Economy
The clearest place where the BRICS are trying to have an impact involves the global economy. This year was only their fourth summit, but their action items are getting clearer. Collectively, they have a lot of potential to collaborate on financial and economic matters (Ghosh). One of their more tangible plans is the launching of a development bank in the first quarter of next year and apparently located in South Africa (Reuters). While this definitely provides a challenge for the other global IFIs, the BRICS are not yet giving up on the IMF and World Bank. They are just repeating their previous bid for greater voice in those global institutions. Most recently, they told the IMF they would provide more cash if they could expand their decision-making role (Reuters). Of course, there is some irony that it is euro-zone countries that are in need of this cash.

The BRICS also have not given up on the WTO’s Doha Round of trade negotiations.

we will explore outcomes in specific areas where progress is possible while preserving the centrality of development and within the overall framework of the single undertaking (ICTSD)

Beyond Economics and Finance
Security
The BRICS agenda is not solely economic. Their own agreement that they are not bound by the West’s decisions to sanction Iran (which they definitely are not, legally), suggests they are interested in flexing some political muscle as well. (And it is useful to note that the only BRICS country NOT to ever have had nuclear weapons is Brazil, although it did have a bit of a program for a brief period of time.)

Climate Change
Unfortunately, the BRICS also seem unlikely to provide leadership on climate change. Their priorities are clearly on economic development. This is what they state in their declaration:

We affirm that the concept of a ‘green economy’, still to be defined at Rio+20, must be understood in the larger framework of sustainable development and poverty eradication and is a means to achieve these fundamental and overriding priorities, not an end in itself. National authorities must be given the flexibility and policy space to make their own choices out of a broad menu of options and define their paths towards sustainable development based on the country’s stage of development, national strategies, circumstances and priorities. We resist the introduction of trade and investment barriers in any form on the grounds of developing green economy.