What is the UK doing in Africa? And do three recent political changes in Zimbabwe, South Africa and Angola, bring promise of better governance in Africa and a chance for Britain to re-engage?
The jury is still out on whether Robert Mugabe’s removal as president will bring real change there but there is a possibility that a credible election could be held and a new start created. The untimely death of Morgan Tsvangirai leaves the opposition leaderless at the moment. He made mistakes and was outplayed by Mugabe’s cynical ruthlessness but he was regarded as decent and honest. We now have Emerson Mnangagwa, a man in power who has been Mugabe’s amanuensis for nearly 40 years and complicit in all the atrocities that have been committed by Zanu-PF starting with Gukurahundi – the name given to the 1983 massacres in Matabeleland. His report on his first 100 days in office refers only to attempts to stop corruption but no one has been named let alone charged – not even Grace Mugabe.
The country now faces a period of internal recrimination: what gifts did you accept? what land did you steal? where is your money hidden now? The stolen cash is partly in Singapore but I suspect much of it has floated through the system to London. MI6 is busy at the moment but if they could spare a little time to find it – as they did for Nigeria after President Sani Abacha’s death – it would do much to restore Zimbabweans’ respect for Britain.
Eduardo dos Santos, President of Angola for 33 years, is another leaver. I interviewed him in 1986 and thought him nervous, lacking charisma and a poor public speaker simply repeating Cuban slogans. But with Cuban and Russian help his army kept Jonas Savimbi’s Unita movement at bay and finally defeated it. Angola has relied on oil and diamonds for decades and both have taken a hit on world markets. The wealth of the elite around dos Santos – his daughter is reported to be worth $3 billion – and the poverty of those outside the system would be shocking anywhere. But for a government that pretends to be on the side of the poor, it is a sick joke. Two thirds of Angolans are classified as very poor. So when dos Santos tried to lever his daughter into the presidency the party rebelled and voted in Joao Lourenco as president. She has since been sacked as head of the national oil company. Does this mean that the Angolan government will now notice the poverty that it has ignored?
South Africa has also produced a surprise with the election of Cyril Ramaphosa, first as leader of the party and then as president. At one stage it looked as if Zuma was going to shoe in his wife, Nkosozana. During the transition Zuma and Thabo Mbeki were always together, an unlikely couple. I had a lot of respect for him until he engineered the defenestration of Thabo Mbeki in 2008 and became president a year later. The ANC always had two elements in its ranks, the Marxist intellectuals, mostly Jewish whose families had fled from Europe and Russia in the early 20th Century. They provided the propaganda couched in Soviet Union-speak and organised the supply of guns and military training from Russia and other leftist regimes such as Cuba. The other wing was made up of township gangsters who organised the flow of arms in the townships and made money smuggling drugs. Zuma was from the latter camp and became the ANC’s head of intelligence. He had little education but possessed a phenomenal memory and a canniness beneath the charm. Now he is out and faces 783 criminal charges.
Is it just possible that a new mood of leadership in South Africa and Angola combined with Botswana could spread to other countries, forcing Mnangagwa to hold an election in Zimbabwe that he would almost certainly loose if it were free and fair. They could also encourage the Mozambican ruling elite to stop stealing and start delivering. In West Africa Ghana is now resuming its position as a leader for West Africa under the presidency of Nana Akuffo Addo. That requires support from Europe, the UK and the US but I don’t sense any of them are engaging with Africa at the moment – certainly not the UK.
The danger comes from China which seems increasingly to be reverting to its China first policy. That means giving African presidents whatever they want and ripping raw materials out of Africa. They call it non-interference. I call it turning a blind eye to future political disaster in Africa. And Britain’s role? Baroness Lynda Chalker did the job for eight years and could claim she established good relations with several African heads of state and had a real impact. In the past six years Britain has had a change of minister for Africa every year. Soon the UK will be seeking trade deals with African countries. What will their reaction be? The Who K?