South Africa’s Zuma’s downfall – a lesson for president Koroma of Sierra Leone?

Sierra Leone Telegraph: 5 November 2016

Elections are due in Sierra Leone in February 2018. The people of Sierra Leone are yearning for change. President Koroma and his ruling APC will face an electorate that has seen their fortunes, hopes of economic prosperity and improved standard of living dashed.

With an average annual government budget of Le4 Trillion (Four Trillion Leones) – equivalent to about $1 Billion a year, expectations of a much better quality of life for the people of Sierra Leone have been high.

Poverty and early death for both adults and children have worsened, since the ruling APC party took office in 2007, with a manifesto promise of improved prosperity and greater standard of living.

Sierra Leone, like all other nations must create the wealth and prosperity it needs, through investments in education, health care, workforce skills development, industry and business business development, and infrastructure renewal.

But the fact is that president Koroma and his ruling APC have seriously failed to meet the basic needs of the more than six million people in the country, classed as one of the poorest in the world.

After almost ten years in power, the question that must be asked is what has president Koroma and his ministers done with $10 billion?

The much needed investment in the country’s healthcare system to make it truly free and effective at point of access for millions has not materialised. Hospitals have instead become death traps – a place where many go to die, for lack of care.

salone poverty2Poor standards of education and lack of managerial and workforce skills are driving investors away. The government has failed to prioritise and invest in education and technical skills training.

Lack of real investments in the development of the country’s water resources and electricity generation has further depressed much needed economic growth and job creation opportunities. Small and medium sized businesses as well as petty traders are struggling to survive.

The failure of those elected to run the country to abide by regulations, laws and standards that they themselves have put in place, is a serious problem for the country. Corruption and graft has consumed the corridors of State House and beyond.

Sierra Leone is not functioning as one would expect of a twenty-first century society. Far too many people live in squalor, destitution, ignorance, and with simple diseases that could easily be cured.

President Koroma promotes his Agenda for povertyThe government has simply failed to spend the money it should have done in transforming the country.

The lifting of government subsidy on petrol, water and electricity as the economy plummets further, will impact the lives of 99% of the population, but the rich and well connected.

Public procurement contracts have become gravy trains for the president and senior ministers – with hundreds of millions of dollars leaving the shores of Sierra Leone into private foreign bank accounts.

President Koroma does not hide the fact that he is one of the richest leaders in Africa, with investments in Chinese companies in and out of the country, and owning hectares of land and several properties in the country.

Few people believe that president Koroma made his Billion Dollars fortune selling insurance in a country where the majority of households do not have insurance and much wealth to insure.

Poverty in saloneWhilst the country’s Anti-Corruption Commission has over the years investigated and invariably charged and successfully prosecute a handful of low level public officials, its record in holding senior officials and those at the top of government accountable is very poor and disappointing.

The latest Auditor General’s report shows that hundreds of millions of dollars are still not being accounted for by ministers and officials, after successive annual reports telling the same shocking story of deep rooted corruption in high places.

The 2015 report by the Auditor General is based on an investigation into 72 public contracts across five departments, with a spending value of about Le 427.4 billion – a quarter of the country’s entire government expenditure in 2015.

The report found a deplorable “decline in the quality of compliance with the Procurement Act and Regulations since we reviewed it in 2013”.

“Based on our findings we have to conclude that the Act and Regulations are in effect being ignored or, where considered, were done in a very passive ‘tick-the- box’ manner,” says the report, as it demands immediate investigation by the Anti-Corruption Commission.

The findings of the investigation found massive corruption in several departments. In the ministry of defence, over $12.5 million were stolen, with serious irregularities in the procurement of construction work. President Koroma is commander in-chief of the armed forces.

Palor ContehAt the ministry of internal affairs run by president Koroma’s cousin – Palo Conteh, the report found serious discrepancies – in particular the country’s police force  where it accused management of “the inappropriate use of sole source method for Kenwood batteries amounting to Le 569 million.”

Investigators were also unable to find credible documentary evidence to support the tender process for 100 stun guns valued at $88,000, which have not been delivered to the police.

The Auditor General’s 2015 report is littered with evidence of shocking violation of the country’s public procurement laws, and serious abuse of office by those in power.

Few in Sierra Leone expect the Anti-Corruption Commission to bring charges, let alone prosecute those responsible.

president-koroma-and-logus-koromaA recent report by the Auditor General discovered that $14 million out of a total of $18 million funding, meant for desperate people suffering from the Ebola virus were stolen by public officials. No one has been charged to court with an offense by president Koroma.

President Jacob Zuma is facing the wrath of the people of South Africa, as the country’s Anti-Corruption Commission and the judiciary turn on the screws. He has been accused of rampant corruption and cronyism.  The people of South Africa are calling for him to go.

What lessons can president Koroma and his ruling APC learn from the Zuma debacle?

Writing for theconvesation.com in an article – ‘The death knell of Zuma’s rule echoes transitions elsewhere in Africa’, professor Mark Swilling asks whether what is happening in South Africa is part of the third wave of African uprisings.

“It’s important to recognise that these have not unfolded uniformly with a shared platform. What is common is action against ruling elites, but this has played out differently in different countries, with some victories for democracy and some setbacks,” he says.

zuma-downfallThis is his article:

Sometime after the next South African president is sworn in, the country will look back on the Jacob Zuma years and reflect on the two defining moments of this period of degeneration: the Marikana massacre in 2012, and the release of the Public Protector’s State of Capture report after the court humiliation of Zuma and a cabal of his supporters.

The Marikana massacre was the most dramatic symbol of popular resistance to state failure, although it was by no means an isolated event.

The state capture report represents the victory of a broad front of political elites drawn from all parties, key business networks and several civil society coalitions who gathered in 1980s-style “united frontism” in the country’s capital Pretoria.

This may just be a prelude to a rearrangement of power positions at the apex after Zuma falls – or gets pushed – onto his sword. Or it foreshadows deeper regime change.

Either way, South Africa has become part of a much wider pan-African dynamic commonly referred to now as Africa Uprising – the third wave of major popular uprisings since the 1950s.

These uprisings are led mainly by urban youth and, although diverse, they essentially express aspirations that most regimes cannot currently address.

In particular, demands for democratic decision-making, an end to state capture and greater redistribution.

The first wave took place in the 1950s/1960s which led to the end of colonialism. The second was in the 1980s/1990s which got rid of dictatorships that followed the growth years of the 1960s, reinforced by Cold War dynamics.

The third wave has affected over 40 countries over the past decade, and the outcome is as yet unclear.

zuma-and-chief-justiceOpponents gather strength

If Zuma had proceeded with his court action to stop publication of the report, he would have directly taken on his own party and the people of South Africa. This remarkable eventuality was a step too far, even for him.

For the leadership of the African National Congress, it must have been comforting seeing him engineer his own almost total political isolation, thus saving them from finding the courage to recall him like they did former President Thabo Mbeki in 2008.

There has been growing evidence over the past few weeks that the tide has begun to turn against Zuma in the party’s National Executive Committee.

This became very apparent when its chief whip Jackson Mthembu kept his job after leading the public charge against Zuma  from his parliamentary base two weeks earlier.

Mthembu didn’t suffer the same fate as Paul Mashatile, another ANC stalwart and then leader of the country’s economic powerhouse Gauteng, who paid the price for coming out publicly against Zuma  before the local government elections in August.

And there have been the first indications that the usually fearful and limp-wristed business community has had enough.

There could be no clearer evidence of this than the standing ovation that AngloGold Ashanti chairman Sipho Pityana got at a mining conference. This was followed by CEOs coming out against charges being brought against the Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan.

A rapid series of events over the past few weeks suggest that the tide has turned against Zuma. After the head of the country’s National Prosecuting Authority Shaun Abrahams dropped the charges against Gordhan thus further weakening Zuma, rumours circulated within the ANC, parliamentary and well-connected business circles that “No. 1 (a colloquial reference to Zuma) was planning a major strike that will change the game”.

Most assumed this would be a scorched-earth cabinet reshuffle to get Gordhan out. After the publication of the Public Protector’s damning report this seems unlikely.

It would, nevertheless, be a mistake to underestimate Zuma.

Dangerous times ahead

The issue is no longer whether Zuma will leave or not. The challenge now is a power vacuum without a clear political project to fill it. This is the new contestation, a dangerous time when the moves are opaque.

ANC factions are out in the open, but none seem able to lead decisively. Populist forces would be keen to fill this vacuum.

One of the country’s largest unions, the National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union, has made a commendable intervention calling on Zuma to resign and for the deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa to take over.

But, given the myriad divisions in the ANC, it’s a safe bet that Ramaphosa is not about to step into the breach with a coherent coalition of forces behind him.

By contrast, if a downgrade triggers a recession and protests mount, mass mobilisation may well be triggered. South Africans should not underestimate what happens as politicised students head home into their communities across the country for the holidays. As in Ethiopia recently, this could turn a student moment into people’s movement.

SLPP prepares for constituency 107 bye election 5Africa’s third wave of uprisings

So is South Africa part of the third wave of African uprisings? It’s important to recognise that these have not unfolded uniformly with a shared platform.

What is common is action against ruling elites, but this has played out differently in different countries, with some victories for democracy and some setbacks.

The most recent have been protests in Ethiopia that started with student demonstrations and spread out into a people’s movement, with significant support from the Ethiopian diaspora.

The governing party has admitted that changes are needed. There has been a cabinet reshuffle and 20 cabinet ministers have been fired.

There are similar stories across the continent, with different results. In some, power positions have been rearranged at the apex, as in Ethiopia. But in Tanzania, President John Magufuli is completely changing the ballgame.

The North African chapters of the Arab Spring have decomposed into dictatorships, largely because middle class-led movements did not translate into real organisational power capable of resisting re-militarisation.

In August 2016, 272 activists from movements across Africa met in Arusha and issued the Kilimanjaro Declaration. A key sentence read:

[t]hat the wealth belongs to all our people, not to a narrow political and economic elite.

State capture is not just a South African phenomenon. Nor are the country’s movements unique. But I believe that South Africa is part of Africa Uprising, and like the previous waves, the country can assume that things will change fundamentally.

What it should not do is allow the current political vacuum to be filled by those who only want to rearrange power positions in the apex or alternatively impose a populist solution.

About the author of ‘The death knell of Zuma’s rule echoes transitions elsewhere in Africa’:

Mark Swilling is a distinguished Professor of Sustainable Development at the Stellenbosch University, South Africa.

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