“On Good Governance: Lessons From The Middle East”
31 August 2010
Honourable Members of the National Assembly
Kofi Annan, former UN Secretary General, declared that “good governance is perhaps the single most important factor in eradicating poverty and promoting development”
The generic principles that enshrine good governance according to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) are democracy, effective public sector institutions, the rule of law, a strong and popular peoples’ participation in decision making and the management of public resources for the benefit of all.
The uprisings in what was later to be dubbed the Arab Spring echoed the absence of some or all these factors in some of the Middle East and North African (MENA) States.
Many of these states lacked popular democratic participation of the people in electing their leaders into powerful political positions, the role being taken in some instances by army generals or the royal elite.
In some instances, the role of the public sector was relegated to service of the ruling and middle classes in the region rather than for the collective development of all the people.
Because of their pre-colonial history, many of the countries opened their doors to imperial plunder by their former colonies.
The result of this, given this scramble for survival and human development, were foreign-financed civil wars or stage-managed elections in order to remove the unelected and corrupt classes throughout the region every decade since the 1930’s.
The absence of strong popular participation by the people through their own mass formations resulted in the silent crashing of any political descent and the exile of agitators for democracy as was the case in Egypt and Algeria.
The political conservatism in this region was also supported by a regional block of the Arab League which offered inter-regional solidarity as it relates to their class economic and political needs, and isolation which was in most instances at the whim and demand by the US and EU countries.
Most of these economies, with abundance in oil reserves, became the outposts of energy hungry Western and Northern economies and also served as protectorates for Israel (the chief benefactor of US patronage in the region) against all those who sought to create a collective Arab state and liberate the people of Palestine from its occupation.
They, to borrow a phrase, like thirsty nomads, swallowed every neo-liberal prescription from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank as they privatised key sectors of industry and opened their markets for foreign plunder.
The region will forever remain the jewel of the north and the west as long as its location allows both powers the will to continue with their global domination.
Who would have known that what was initially a random killing of a young educated vendor, Khaled Said, by hired thugs on the payroll of Egyptian police mid-last-year would have triggered public protests and ultimately the overthrow of long-serving dictators in Egypt and Tunisia and sustained mass pressure in Syria, Jordan, Morocco and Bahrain?
The opening of a facebook account, aptly titled “We are all Khaled Said”, by a certain Wael Ghonim, a Google Executive based in Dubai, suddenly erupted massive political interests and action in both Tunisia and Egypt, and ultimately, the entire Middle East and North Africa were covered with unrest.
This reaction was not merely a revenge for Said’s death or adventure to realise what many had professed on the social network sites.
Many of the protestors, from Jordan to Egypt to Tunisia were responding to the failure of economic policies and the global economic crises.
They were also collective victims of unrepentant power mongers who sought to hand over from their generation within their family lineage. Their political rights; the credibility of governance institutions; rampant corruption; abusive security forces and determination to stay in office forever were some of the major irritations of the people in the region.
Although they identified themselves with the victim Khaled Said, and borrowed battle cries of past civil and anti-colonial wars in order to launch a spiral of regime changes in the region, they were also determined in their calls for democracy, liberty and economic freedom.
We have already seen three heads of state being ousted; two by internal popular uprisings (in Egypt and Tunisia) and one through military interference by NATO forces (Libya) whilst others, such as Morocco, Jordan and Bahrain are holding on to dear power assisted openly by the United States, France and Britain.
It is well known that the three super-powers’ foreign policy are intended at defending any government, democratic or autocratic, as long as it keeps the door open for imperial looting or serves as a base for continued economic and political domination of the world.
This is why Mubarak or Ben Ali were not removed five or ten years ago, but stayed in office as long as this presented to them the opportunity to further enrich themselves and their cronies whilst the general population in these countries were enmeshed in poverty and unemployment.
Unlike in governments wherein their economic and political power is threatened, these powers would either oust or attempt to oust popularly elected leaders in the name of “democracy” or “good-governance” as was the case in Chile with Allende, Guatemalan Arbeniz, Haiti’s Aristide and several attempts on Cuba’s Castro and Venezuelan Chavez.
In many instances, the removal of popularly elected candidates resulted in the installation of ruthless dictatorships that accumulated power and plundered the resources of their mother countries, while keeping the door open for the energy hungry economies of the North and West.
In the case of Indonesia, we saw a Suharto; whilst in Chile a Pinochet through military interference by the US and went on. As millions of people died under repression and authoritarian rule, the US turned a blind eye as long as the oil pipelines kept on pumping into its economy, and natural resources being plundered for the continued industrialisation of their economies.
This style of leadership and hypocritical foreign policy became the case even in the intervention of NATO forces with regards to Middle East and North African.
Whilst police and the army killed and victimised scores of protestors in Egypt, Morocco or Bahrain; both the North and the West called for dialogue, with France going as far as offering police and military intervention to Bahrain in order to help it quell the storm.
A closer look at, for instance, the US response to the Mubharak quagmire, would expose its double agenda as they initially called for dialogue, then when the protests grew stronger; the call escalated to a peaceful transition wherein Mubarak, 29 years in power, would exit this September; then when this was ignored and Tahir Square protestors took off their shoes in protests; the US ensured a peaceful exit of Mubarak and the setting up of a transitional government.
No calls for the ICC to intervene for crimes against Khaled Said and others. No expropriation of the 26 billion pounds wealth stashed in Britain. Just that! A quite exit from his state house and the staging of a corruption trial (with a bumper holiday prison cell).
This was not the case in Libya.
Despite calls by Mummar Qadaffi for dialogue, facilitated by the African Union, NATO went ahead to bomb Libya and effectively side with the rebel. In fact, as the AU was jetting onto Libya to strengthen negotiations, so were the NATO forces jetting off their armed bases off to wipr out Libya and what was believed to be Qadaffi’s safe havens.
The US president, Barack Obama, issued various statements, including a declaration of war against Qadaffi and an ultimatum for his removal or resignation. The ICC pronounced that they will prosecute him.
All of a sudden, “innocent civilian protestors”, armed with tankers, began taking city after city moving towards Tripoli. Italy, Britain and France openly declared their support for the civilians and announced funding for the so called ‘rebel leaders’.
The oil multi-nationals in those countries made no secret about their financing of this ‘civil war’. And as we will see in months to come, that ‘democracy’ will not come cheap for the workers and the poor, and the entire peoples of Libya.
Already, the North and the West are breathing heavily on the neck of the new leaders of the transitional government in Libya so as to dictate their new policies and new constitutional reforms. They were told by both Presidents Cameron and Obama that they should not dare follow in the footsteps of naughty Qadaffi, or they will meet the same fate.
In all of these, it does not matter who leads but what the new leadership will do for the North and West in relation to oil, their policies on Israel, and to ensure the protection of their military interests in the globe.
So calls against authoritarianism and dictatorships, including calls for democracy and good governance, will become nothing for the peoples of that region.
But what are the lessons for us.
Firstly, there is a lesson in terms of Foreign policy.
South Africa has maintained a policy of non-intervention where there are conflicts and has sought to export the CODESA discourse amongst warring parties. When the British finger was itching to pull the trigger on Zimbabwe, and that of France on Ivory Coast, our government offered to mediate and negotiate and even presented a platform for democratic prosperity.
Where these were not ignored, years of facilitation ultimately yielded fruits as was the case in Sudan.
But in instances where the former colonisers lost their patience, they deployed skilled military interventions as was the case with Ivory Coast and Libya, the same fate suffered by Iraq and Afghanistan.
In global institutions that South Africa is represented, our determination for non-intervention through military action must persist in order to ensure peaceful resolution of the domestic and internal conflicts, and to allow citizens of the concerned countries to resolve their conflicts.
We should ensure that the AU is strengthened in mediating and helping resolve African problems. There is a need for firmness and determination for African leaders to ensure that African problems are resolved through African ways. If the AU can be disrespected and sidestepped in this manner as was the case in Ivory Coast and Libya, then the dream of African unity is far from being attained.
Secondly, we have to protect the institutions that insulate our sustained democracy. We have just held successful local government elections wherein all citizens exercised the right to vote for their local representatives. Our IEC has received numerous awards for their adherence to international best practices. There is no risk of political violence or arrests merely because people are expressing their views or demand to be heard.
We must however use this opportunity to condemn the killings of politicians in KwaZulu Natal and call on all authorities to act swiftly against those involved. This is only reminiscent of the apartheid era brutalities and such defeated tendencies cannot be allowed to prosper.
The justice system, from local magistrate courts to the Constitutional Court, have fool prove non-interference with regards to their judgements or role. Any criticism by the ANC as the ruling party of the justice system is as legitimate as criticism by the opposition benches in their weak criticism of the nomination of Megoeng Megoeng.
Some who are standing on the moral high ground today, seeking to reverse the nomination of Megoeng, and hoping to reverse it, will have to wait until their turn comes to be declared the ruling party.
Thirdly, the uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa were not only triggered by facebook or twitter accounts, but also by the social conditions faced by the people on the ground.
As the Editorial of New Left Review (Perry Anderson, NLR no.64: 2011) declared, and I quote
“Everything began with the death in despair of a pauperized vegetable vendor, in a small provincial town in the hinterland of Tunisia. Beneath the commotion now shaking the Arab world have been volcanic social pressures: polarization of incomes, rising food prices, lack of dwellings, massive unemployment of educated—and uneducated—youth, amid a demographic pyramid without parallel in the world.”
Good governance does not mean fighting against corruption in the public sector only. It also means sustainable incomes for the poor, decent shelter for the homeless, food for the hungry, and employment for the youth in particular.
It is agreed that the average rate of unemployment in MENA region was more than 40% amongst young people.
The global economic crises made matters no better for regimes which have stayed in power for so long, passing power from generation to generation, and through the royal elite in some instance, plundering revenues from oil as their personal petty cash and keeping the masses of our people off the dinner table and even far from the crumbs that falls from it.
The ANC has consistently said that unemployment in South Africa is a ticking time bomb and required all sectors of our society to contribute into it. The commitment by government in declaring this year the year of Job creation should be applauded. We have to deal with the more than 70% unemployed young people who are languishing the streets in hopelessness and poverty.
Many progressive calls for economic liberation, state or people ownership of land, higher taxes for the wealthy and the appropriate redistribution of resources for the development of our people are borne out of the frustrations of young people not finding decent jobs.
Some say it is the ANC government that will be blamed for all of these and that it will suffer if the socio-economic conditions do not change. However, it is this government that has facilitated interventions in order to ensure that the private sector grows and contributes to the economy, with little or reciprocation but a desire to make profits.
South Africa is the most unequal society in the world. This is borne out of the greed prevalent in the private sector where the haves needs more whilst the have-not are expected to wait and die in poverty, unemployment and want. The wage gaps between blue collar workers and the top executives remain a shame that must be confronted.
The continued lack of transformation in the ownership and control of the economy, and the dominance by white males as observed in the recently released statistics by the Commission on Employment Equity is unsustainable. We cannot have 6% of the population owning and controlling more than 90% of the economy, in particular with relation to the JSE. This is what will trigger another Egypt or Tunisia.
Lastly, we have to solidly deal with corruption in both the public and private sector. This is one of the major priorities identified by the ANC led government. Continued whistle blowing, arrest and prosecution of corrupt public officials, politicians and business people must be dealt with.
Through strengthening our governance institutions, and dealing with any threat to the democratic revolution and its commitment to better our society, we will strengthen the hope that our people have on this democracy.
Buti Manamela is a Member of the ANC in Parliament and National Secretary of the Young Communist League