Friday, 28 April 2017

SOUTH AFRICA: ANC's Conundrum

The ANC will hold a conference in December to pick a new party leader who will be its candidate for the 2019 elections. But there is a growing fear among party members that the party could lose power in the next election, if internal divisions, corruption continue to shape the party's future. In fact, the party slipped to 55 percent of the vote in last year's local elections, its worst ever result.

Zuma, 75, is due to step down as head of the ANC in December, as as president ahead of 2019 general election. Zuma's corruption allegations, of being in the sway of the wealthy Gupta business family, allegedly granting them influence over government appointments and contracts and internal divisions within his government have weakened the party.

Dissatisfaction with the government has been growing over high levels of unemployment, a lack of basic services and allegations of widespread corruption. the ANC is likely to use its impressive mandate to try to drive through its National Development Plan - rejecting nationalisation, and emphasising investment and infrastructure. The business-friendly plan has alarmed South Africa's powerful unions - some of which may soon break away to form their own party.

It might be tempting to conclude that in South Africa the more things change, the more they stay the same. But the national polls, and electoral outcomes in South Africa’s nine provinces, reveal subtler shifts and trends that cast the election in a rather different light and raise important questions about the ANC’s future as a dominant party. Would the ANC be able to deliver its promises and maintain its legitimacy? Would President Zuma and the ANC leadership be able to address the big issues that sickening South Africa today?

The ANC wasn’t just elected into government in 1994. It reclaimed the freedom and self-determination of all people by means of a struggle that was long, bloody, dehumanizing, humiliating and towards the ends, fairly clever. On a continent where democracy is largely just another corrupt form of failed governance, the ANC is the party that won the struggle, thereby becoming the natural leader of the nation.

But the power the ANC holds in its current form is neither saturated nor guaranteed. Its leadership is not carved in stone. The massive power struggles within the party are the truest form of political rivalry and need to be given more attention. The prevalent whining about the definition of a “true democracy“ and the size and relevance of the opposition also misses the point. The government is not accountable to its opposition. It is accountable to its people.

Many things have improved in South Africa since 1994, to be sure.  State racism has ended, and the country now boasts what many describe as the most progressive constitution in the world.  People have rights, and there are institutions designed to protect and uphold those rights. Still, everyday life for most South Africans remains a struggle – a struggle that is infinitely compounded by the sense of disappointment that accompanies it, given the gap between the expectations of liberation and the state of abjection that the majority continues to inhabit.

South Africa’s unemployment rate in 1994 was 13 percent – so bad that most were convinced it could not get worse.  Yet today it is double that, at more than 25 percent.  Add all the people who have given up searching for work, and the figure is closer to 37 percent.  The situation is particularly bad for young people.  The Economist recently reported that “half of South Africans under 24 looking for work have none. Of those who have jobs, a third earn less than $2 a day.”

Besides its dismal record on employment, South Africa also boasts a reputation for being one of the most unequal countries in the world.  Not only has aggregate income inequality worsened since the end of apartheid, income inequality between racial groups has worsened as well.

According to the 2015 census, black households earn only 16 percent of that which white households earn. About 62 percent of all black people live below the poverty line, while in the rural areas of the former homelands this figure rises to a shocking 79 percent. In 2006, 70 percent of South Africa’s land was still under the control of whites, who constitute a mere 10 percent of the population.  The ANC’s Black Economic Empowerment programme has succeeded in minting new black millionaires (South Africa has 7,800 of them now), but cannot seem to manage the much more basic goal of eliminating poverty.

How could things have gone so wrong?  Much of it has to do with what happened during the negotiated transition of the 1980s and early 1990s.  The apartheid National Party was determined to ensure that the transition would not undermine key corporate interests in South Africa, specifically finance and mining.  They were willing to bargain away political power so long as they could retain control over the economy.  And so they did.  The ANC was forced to retreat from its position on nationalisation, and an IMF deal signed just before the transition deregulated the financial sector and clamped down on wage increases.  The central bank, left in the hands of the old apartheid bosses, was insulated from democratic politics and its mandate limited to targeting inflation instead of employment or growth.

The National Party only managed to extract these concessions because they had successfully divided the resistance movement between moderate elites, such as Thabo Mbeki, who had spent many years in exile, and the more radical activists who were at the forefront of the struggle within South Africa itself.  The latter were largely unrepresented in the economic negotiations, while the former enjoyed a sort of royal treatment, including a now infamous series of secret meetings in the United Kingdom with major figures in mining and finance.

Mbeki, a self-proclaimed Thatcherite, was easy to convince.  He already believed in the basic neoliberal principles that the National Party were hoping to instantiate. For him, the route to prosperity for the new nation depended not on nationalisation and redistribution, but on “free trade” and foreign investment, which would supposedly grow the economy and trickle down to the poor.

Still, when the ANC assumed power in 1994 it implemented a progressive policy initiative known as the Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP).  The RDP was designed to promote equitable development and poverty reduction, mostly through public investment and the mass rollout of social services to connect millions of people to housing, electricity, water, and clinics.

Despite its successes, this policy framework was abandoned a mere two years later.  Mbeki and then Finance Minister Trevor Manuel held clandestine discussions with World Bank advisors toward drafting a new economic policy known as GEAR (Growth, Employment, and Redistribution, even though it accomplished precious little of the latter). It was implemented in 1996 despite significant resistance from within the ranks of the unions that had given such force to the anti-apartheid struggle.  Known by its detractors as the “1996 class project”, GEAR amounted to a sort of neoliberal shock therapy: more privatisation, lower trade barriers, and looser financial controls.

When the ANC came to power with a landslide vote in 1994, they did so on the promises of the Freedom Charter.  Penned in 1955, the Freedom Charter expressed South Africans’ demands for the right to work, housing, freedom of movement, and – most radically – economic justice.  “The national wealth of our country, the heritage of South Africans, shall be restored to the people,” the Charter reads.  “The mineral wealth beneath the soil, the Banks and monopoly industry shall be transferred to the ownership of the people as a whole, [and] all other industry and trade shall be controlled to assist the wellbeing of the people.”

Most South Africans agree that these promises have been horribly betrayed.  South Africa’s mineral wealth, including some of the richest seams of gold, platinum, and coal in the world, remain in the hands of corporations such as British-owned Anglo American.  The finance sector, which has ballooned to a dangerously large 21 percent of the country’s GDP, remains mostly monopolised by four white-owned conglomerates.

Given these contradictions, it is no wonder that South Africa is ablaze with discontent, earning it the title of “protest capital of the world”.  It seems that every year authorities report that the number of protests has reached the highest levels since the end of apartheid.  And, indeed, the figures are staggering: Since last year some 3,000 protests occurred over a 90 day period, involving more than a million people.  South Africans are taking to the streets as they give up on electoral politics.  This is particularly true for the young: Nearly 75 percent of voters aged 20-29 did not participate in the last local elections.

The government’s response has been a mix of police repression and the continued rollout of welfare grants, which now reach more than 15 million people.  The grants are a stop-gap solution to the failure of trickle-down economics, a way of papering over the contradictions of South African capitalism; everyone is aware that without them poverty and inequality would be so unbearable that the country’s already tenuous sense of social stability would come crashing to an end.

So far the protests have been focused on issues like access to housing, water, electricity, and other basic services, but it won’t be long before they coalesce into something much more powerful, as they did during the last decade of apartheid.  There are already signs that this is beginning to happen.  The Economic Freedom Fighters, recently founded by Julius Malema, the unsavoury former leader of the ANC Youth League, is successfully mobilising discontented youth and making a strong push to nationalise the mines and the banks.  On a more interesting front, NUMSA, the metal workers union, recently broke ranks with the ANC in an historic turn that could open the way for a labour-based opposition to the ruling party for the first time since 1994.

It seems that the ANC’s legitimacy is beginning to unravel and consent among the governed has begun to thin.  It is clear that since the death of Mandela in 2013, ANC, in its current form of leadership, has dramatically failed to reconnect with its voters and lost its soul: liberation of the struggle.

In short, the situation in South Africa over the past 20 years opens up interesting questions about the meaning of democracy.  What is democracy if it doesn’t allow people to determine their own economic destiny or benefit from the vast wealth of the commons?  What is freedom if it serves only the capital interests of the country’s elite?  The revolution that brought the end of apartheid has accomplished a great deal, to be sure, but it has not yet reached its goal.  Liberation is not yet at hand.

By  Prof Guylain Gustave Moke
International Affairs Expert
Political Analyst/Author
Lecturer

Photo Credit: AFP-Getty Image photo of ANC Leader, Jacob Zuma


Wednesday, 26 April 2017

BURUNDI: Two years of Political Turmoil

Burundi has descended into crisis in April 2015, following the announcement on Nkurunziza's controversial bid for third term. Two years after, the regime shows no signs of easing up on a crackdown that has forced hundred of thousands to flee.

The UN estimates that at least 500 people have been killed and more than 500.000 people have been forced to flee the country since President Pierre Nkurunziza sought a third term in April 2015. Nkurinziza's re-election violated the two term limit set by the constitution and a 2006 peace deal that ended years of civil war.

In meantime, his ruling CNND-FDD party has unleashed its feared youth wing known as the ''Imbronerakure'' ( a word derived from local language Kirundi, meaning those who see from afar), spreading around the country, raping, arresting, harassing the opposition with total impunity. 

The UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres underlines the responsibility of the Burundian authorities to protect the civilian population, regardless of political affiliation, and to ensure that the widespread impunity for these heinous acts is brought to an immediate end. But Nkurunziza has rejected the UN and the African Union calls. In fact, he has grown more radicalized, taking advantage of the growing divisions on the UNSC, as well as the paralysis of the African Union and internal divisions and inflated egos within the opposition to stall negotiations.

Two years after Burundi's fraught presidential election, violence has only deepened in the country. That presidential vote took place in an environment tainted by government crackdowns and fear, and there has been an alarming upsurge in arrests, detentions and killings, with bodies found almost daily in the streets of Bujumbura, the capital. 

Since then, targeted killings of key opposition figures have multiplied. Mr Zedi Feruzi, who headed the opposition Union for Peace Development Party and was an outspoken critic of Nkurunziza's third term, was killed in Bukumbura. The Party' spokesman, Patrice Gahungu, was shot dead on his way home in Bujumbura. The body of Charlotte Umugwaneza, an activist for the opposition Movement for Solidarity and Democracy  (MSD), was found in the Gikoma River. Human rights activist Pierre Claver Mbonimpa, survived assassination attempt. 

Gen, Adolphe Nshimirimana, Nkurunziza's long-time ally and deputy, was killed, allegedly by other soldiers. Only two weeks later, the former Chief of staff of the army, Col. Jean Bikomagu, a Tutsi who led the government forces, known as the Armed Forces of Burundi (FAB), during the civil war, was executed in front of his house. The army's chief of staff and another former FAB leader, Gen, Prime Niyongabo, narrowly escaped an assassination attempt in Bujumbura. 

Opposition figures, however, are not the only victims. Attacks on journalists have grown in the past few months. Now, as results, the majority of the opposition is outside of the country and journalists are fleeing, leaving an information vacuum that social media has tried to fill. 

In a political scene dominated by oppression, the military has also seen its share of desertions, targeted killings and rumors of rebellions. Two high-ranked officers-the deputy commander of an elite infant unit, Maj Emmanuel Ndayikeza and Lt. Col. Edouard Nshimirimana-were reported missing, along with material, including 100 army radios, strengthening rumors of rebellion. 

As violence has spiked in Burundi, international actors and the government's aid lifelines-the European Union, the African Union and the United States-have continued to push for consultations and dialogue. Simultaneously, they have issued sanctions but Nkurunziza stands strong.

The EU first issued targeted sanctions against four individuals: three connected to the government and one who participated on the failed coup, making sure not to only target Nkurinziza's camp. Aid suspension and broader economic sanctions followed when EU-brokered dialogue failed to resolve the crisis. 

It is true that sanctions have severe effects on an already struggling population, since the EU is one of the main funder of Burundi's budget. But sanctions on targeted individuals are not strong enough to bend Nkurunziza's regime, which now relies more on Russia and China, countries which do not wish to interfere in the country's political turmoil. 

The AU has also decided to increase the number of human rights observers in Burundi. Most consequentially, the AU's Peace and  Security Council communiqué raised the possibility of deploying the EASF to prevent further violence. At the end, the AU backtracked after Nkurunziza's threats. Now the AU's Peace and Security Council should revisit the decision of deploying the EASF to end the political turmoil.

For one, it would be the first deployment of one of the five regional African Standby Forces (ASF), and as such, would be an important test for the AU's African Peace and Security Architecture. The AU currently is undertaking its first filed exercise on a continental level, known as AMANI Africa, to test the operational readiness of the ASF, with more than 5,000 troops in South Africa. 

An EASF deployment would be a complete example of the AU's normative shift from non-intervention to a doctrine of non-indifference, meaning that the AU has the responsibility to protect a state's population from human rights violations. 

In a region that faces several elections with president keen to stay in power in the coming years, the fate of Burundi serves as an important test. International pressure to solve the ongoing crisis is therefore crucial to avoid similar in neighboring countries. Yet it will be an uphill battle as many of Burundi's leaders appear willing to risk everything to maintain the status quo.

By Guylain Gustave Moke
International Affairs Expert
Political Analyst/Writer

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

FRANCE: How to deal with Le Pen's Rise?

The post-political situation in France is at the origin of Marine Le Pen's right wing populism, ''Front National'', growing success because there is really no longer a striking difference between the policies of the traditional French parties: ''Les Republicains'' and '' Parti Socialiste''.

Center-right and center-left-parties in France offer a variant of the same kind of politics. Center-left party does not offer an alternative to the neoliberal globalization promoted by the Center-right. The only thing the Center-left can do is to manage it a bit more humanely. This creates a consensus of the center, which leaves the people without a real choice between different alternatives.

As a result, the French people lose their interest in politics – that’s why there was 22% abstention on Sunday first round election and there is a growing support for Le Pen as we currently witness across France. Le Pen's ''Front National'' at least pretend to offer an alternative: She is against the establishment; she takes the demands of the people into account and claims that she is speaking on their behalf. 

When Le Pen speaks about “the people,” she refers to an entity that is restricted to a certain category of people from which immigrants are excluded. This is usually accompanied by a xenophobic discourse, which is of course very negative for democracy. But let’s not forget the possibility of a left-wing populism in which the notion of “the people” is constructed in a different way: it includes both immigrants and all the people who are working in a specific country. The adversaries of the people in this case are not the immigrants, but the big transnational corporations and all the forces of neoliberal globalization. The development of a left-wing populism is the only way to fight against the growing success of Le Pen's populism.

In France today, Le Pen is the one who speaks and appeals to the popular sector. What we increasingly see is that ''Parti Socialiste'' ( at least under Hollande) abandons the popular classes. Hollande and the ''Parti Socialiste'' are more concerned with representing the middle classes. The result is that there are many sectors that do not feel represented. This is why people tend to be attracted by Le Pen's right-wing populism. 

In France Marine Le Pen and the Front National have increasingly added to their discourse themes which they basically stole from the discourse of the Left. The defense of the welfare state and the public sector are just two examples of issue areas that Francois Hollande and the ''Parti Socialiste'' have abandoned over the years because they have opted for the neoliberal ideology.

Marine Le Pen’s political program would be a catastrophe for France! She wants to get out of the European Union, she wants to get out of the Euro and she wants to close the French frontiers – a complete return to purely national politics. Of course this isn’t realistic! Le Pen’s program is also completely unacceptable from a moral point. It’s deeply xenophobic. For Le Pen, the Muslims are the adversaries of the French people. She presents them as a threat to the secular principles of the French Republic. The assumption is: Muslims cannot be integrated because they do not accept our values concerning the equality of gays, women etc. Of course this kind of politics is not compatible with a pluralist conception of democracy.

In order to counter the growing success of Le Pen's right wing populism in France, we need to create a ''Left wing populism''. That ''left-wing populism'' would have to take into account the concerns of the people by proposing other solutions and by trying to find ways to fight against the neoliberal globalization. That's the reason why Macron's catch-all movement ''En Marche'', a disguised form of center-left with a mix of left wing populism, becomes the cure against Le Pen's right wing populism.

Of course, the aim is not to reject globalization – that is simply not possible – but to fight for an alternative version of it. Le Pen simply rejects globalization. She wants to come back to the traditional nation state, which is impossible today. The tricky question for the Macron's center-left- left wing populism is how to take account of the popular demands that call for an alternative to Neoliberalism and to envisage what could be a realistic alternative in the present circumstances.

Many will argue that it is a bit too easy to say that left-wing populism is the solution in the fight against right-wing populism. After all, even left-wing populism is a kind of populism. Although right wing populism is quite dangerous, it is still a necessary dimension of democratic politics. There is a necessity to take into account the demands of the people and to create a collective will. The crucial issue is how  “people” is constructed. This also requires us to acknowledge another dimension that I think is very important: the role of passion in politics. 

The passion in politics refers to everything that is related to the affective dimension that is mobilized in politics. The affective dimension is at the origin of collective forms of identification. To create a people you need to mobilize this affective dimension in order to create a collective will and to make people identify with a project. But in the post-political situation that we witness at the moment, both center-right and center-left believe that passion is something that can only be used by the Right end of the political spectrum. I think that’s a very dangerous appraisal: 
If you leave the affective dimension to right-wing populists, there is no way to fight against them. Not only has the affective dimension to be acknowledged, but it also has to be recognized that this affective dimension can be shaped in a much more progressive way. The two main passions in politics are fear and hope. 

Le Pen uses fear – that is why she is fighting against immigrants. And it’s important for Macron to mobilize the passion of hope: to show that there is an alternative to the current situation with the growing gap between rich and poor and the destruction of the welfare state. Le Pen is also very much aware of the importance of using this affective dimension. It is therefore crucial for Macron to acknowledge it and to intervene, to mobilize and to foster affect in order to create collective forms of identification that could deepen democracy.
To counterattack Le Pen's populism, Macron must rally the people around a project that will put forward a different kind of France. I am convinced that the lack of alternatives to the current neoliberal France is one of the reasons why there is so much rejection of traditional French parties. 
Not so long ago, the traditional parties were something that people could identify with. But over the last ten years things have changed: we’ve seen a growing movement of '' anti-systéme''. The reason for that is clear: people today can’t identify with this neoliberal France. They experience that it does not take into account their concerns, especially when it comes to jobs. Quite the contrary: many center right-center-left policies are destroying jobs. One way to reverse this, is to create a a new version of French project that people can identify with. French people have to know that if they don’t want an old version of France, they can always create a different one. 
The lack of debate of this new version of French project is another reason why we witness a growing movement of ''anti-systéme''. Such a debate would certainly contribute to fostering interest among people. The disinterest in French elections results from a feeling that nothing important is at stake here.
This debate should not be a question of destroying the current order and to abandon the market. The problem is that the Anglo-American model has become increasingly dominant in France/Europe. We have to recover what is at the core of the French/European identity. It is nearly a given in a social democracy with its emphasis on equality, social rights, and the welfare state. It certainly needs to be adapted to the present situation and include the demands of the social movements, without going back to the welfare state we had thirty years ago. But those values – social rights and the ways in which they can be implemented and deepened – is something really important. 

In France, some experts prefer to use the term: “radical democracy.” In order to deepen and extend current democratic institutions, this project of radical democracy should be opposed to the notion that we need a revolution, that liberal democracy has to be destroyed in order to construct a real democracy. Liberal-democratic institutions can be radicalized; they can be made more democratic. To work within the system is about transforming its institutions, making them much more accountable, more representative – and this is an objective towards which parties and social movements need to work together.
This radical reformism or radical social-democratic project is certainly something that can be envisaged through an immanent critique of liberal-democratic institutions if we accept that the ethical and political principles of liberal democracy are liberty and equality for all – one can’t find more radical principles. The project of radical democracy consists in pushing our societies to really put into practice the ideals that they profess.

By Guylain Gustave Moke
International Affairs Expert
Political Analyst/Author
Lecturer

Photo-Credit: AFP-Getty-Images of ''Front National'' Leader Marine Le Pen

Monday, 24 April 2017

FRANCE: Macron v Le Pen

The French political landscape is heading for some dramatic changes as a newcomer Emmanuel Macron and the populist Marine Le Pen are heading for the second round of the '' France's Presidential Election'' on May 7.

Flag waving supporters cheered French centrist Emmanuel Macron and far-right leader Marine Le Pen's accession to the second round of France's presidential elections on Sunday as downcast supporters of France's two main traditional parties quietly slipped out their near-empty headquarters.

Now, it is up to a divided France to decide, and those divisions were on full display in the first round of voting on Sunday. The country's established partied both failed to make it into the run-off for the first time in almost 60 years, and the first time ever in the Fifth Republic. In a country that has been dominated for decades by a traditional right-left political structure, voters are very clearly ready for something new.

Emmanuel Macron's Rise

The secret behind Macron's success is his movement. Emmanuel Macron has reinvented France's politics with a new concept: ''the catch-all party'' or the party that attracts from all sides, beyond social classes and, above all, beyond the classic split between right and left. The electorate of this catch-all movement/candidate is gradually being defined according to the demographics uncovered in the polls, but it seems to have crossed the Rubicon and goes beyond this left-right split.

Since the launch in April last year of his political movement ''En Marche!!'', which means ''Forward'', Emmanuel Macron wishes to become president at age 39. Macron has potential as new standard bearer, His youth is a sensation in a country that has been governed for decades by a group of politicians who all seem to look alike, with the same faces, the same names and the same résumés. He succeeds over and over in striking the right tone. He can sound conciliatory, but also brash and demanding. But he always remains polite and never raises his voice.
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Macron is an exceptional phenomenon in times of nationwide discord. He stands out starkly from former colleagues, who often act just as haplessly as the president. Even the once-popular former Prime Minister Manuel Valls is no longer particularly appreciated by the French and is widely seen as sullen and authoritarian. By contrast, Macron can say what he wants and people still like him. He can rave about Europe, which he views as major accomplishment, not obsolete concept. And he can praise German Chancellor Angela Merkel for her refugee policy and explain why France cannot remain the way it is: paralyzed, stuck and depressed.

To Macron's credit, he has jolted the French awake and striven to rouse the country from its state of stupefaction. Instead of seeking to appease the public, he sees it as his mission to galvanize the French into action. Moreover, this is coupled with a tremendous sense of self-confidence that consistently shines through and makes you wonder where in the world it comes from.

Indeed, Macron means business. He says that he wants to reinvent politics, that he wants a new deal for Europe, a new social contract for France. But he has never had to stand for election. His role models are the great socialist European politician Jacques Delors, and former French Prime Minister Michel Rocard, a pragmatic reformer. Sometimes it seems as if Macron sees France as Sleeping Beauty and himself as the Prince.

It is balancing act. Macron, who portrays himself as ''antisystéme'' (non-conformist) and very popular among right-wing, older professional voters, has the opportunity now to expand his support base, attracting voters coming from varying perspectives, men and women from the left as well as the right. His strategy has worked: Left and Rights voters are rallying behind him  and he has indeed great chances to win the second round by more than 60% on May 7.

Marine Le Pen's surge

Today France political climate is rife with violence rooted in nationalist agendas and exploitation rooted in international ones. People's sense of belonging in France has begun to detach itself from the established parties ( Republicans and Socialists) that have been governing them, and instead they have gravitated towards nationalism and populism, offered by Marine Le Pen.

Marine Le Pen claims to be fighting against ''those at the stop''. The approach is successful because the Paris elite is indeed aloof. Up until now, the established parties preferred to simply ignore the Front National. But that is no longer an option. This increases Marine Le Pen's popularity even further.

Marine Le Pen is in very strong position to win France's presidential election next year, because French are rejecting the old parties associated with the old policies. French no longer care how extreme Le Pen's views are. In fact, many French do now adhere to Le Pen's views on the economy, immigration, the declining living standard and the lack of real job creation.

There are three major strands in mass attitudes which predispose French to vote for the radical right or '' Front National'': nativism – that is, a belief that holds that only indigenous inhabitants should have full civic and social rights – authoritarianism, and populism which counter-poses the ordinary people against the ‘elite’, the political class, the liberal intelligentsia. This, combined, constitutes what the cultural theorist Stuart Hall called ‘authoritarian populism.’

According to the theory of ''Pathological normalcy'', authoritarian populism, far from being confined to the margins, is deeply embedded within the mainstream. Two factors, one can argue, have propelled it into the forefront of political consciousness. The first is the rising salience, and emotional voltage of anti-immigrant feeling, that is to say mounting antipathy, resentment and apprehension towards those – whether they be recent immigrants, asylum-seekers or established ethnic minorities – who constitute ‘the other’.

The second is, of course, the impact of the financial crash and the economic recession. The effect of this has not been a tilt to the left. Left-wing diagnoses, at least in France, have had little purchase: there is only a muted sense that the gyrations of the financial system are in any way responsible for what went wrong. Most people, one suspects, are left baffled by talk of sub-prime mortgages, derivatives and credit default swaps. They are looking for something more tangible to blame: if not Francois Hollande then welfare recipients and, of course, immigrants.

The implication of all this is disturbing for the ''Republican'' and the ''Socialist Party''. Research for some while has indicated that authoritarian populism in France appeals in particular to the more poorly-educated, to manual workers and to routine clerical workers: the natural constituency of the those two main parties. What we are witnessing is, in a sense, a reconstitution of a form of class politics.

Conclusion

In this unprecedented situation, it would be inadvisable to look past voting patters for guidance. Traditionally, when the Front National has made it into the final round of the election, voters have tended to rally around its opponent, which appears to be happening this year as well.

The ''Republican'' and the ''Socialist Party'' have now officially declared war on Marine Le Pen and dubbed her their most important opponent for the presidential election. Both  the ''Republican''s candidate, Francois Fillon and the ''Socialist''s candidate, Bénoit Hamon, have not wasted time in calling theirs voters to rally behind Macron.

If the polls are right, it seems that we are heading to a repeat of 2002 presidential election when Marine Le Pen's father and ''Front National'' founder, Jean Marie Le Pen, got through to the second round in a surprise vote but went on to lose in a humiliating landslide against right wing president Jacques Chirac.

To avoid this ''déjá vú scenario'', Le Pen's best chance of hauling back Macron's big lead in the polls is to paint him as a part of an elite aloof from ordinary French people and their problems. Part of that strategy would be to remind voters of Macron's former role as a deal breaker in investment banking and economy minister under Hollande.

By Guylain Gustave Moke
International Affairs Expert
Political Analyst/Author

Photo-Credit: AFP-Getty Images photo of Emmanuel Macron & Marine Le Pen

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

IRAN: Election or Camouflage?

Ex Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has registered as candidtae in May election, despite the warning of Iran's Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The registration for the May 19 election started on Monday and will last five days, after which entrants will be screened for their political and Islamic qualifications by a vetting body, the Guardian Council.

Iran's Supreme leader, who has the final say in Iran's clerical establishment, warned that Ahmadinejab's candidacy could create division in the country and harm the nation. The incumbent president, Hassan Rouhani, a moderate who engineered Iran's 2015 nuclear deal with world powers that secured a removal on international financial and trade sanctions against Tehran, is expected to seek-re-election but faces a stiff challenge from conservatives who oppose the deal

Elections in Iran are not democratic and fair. The run-up is marked by haggling and the post-election period by maneuvering. Only those who unconditionally support the "Wilayat al Faqih" or Guardianship of the Jurist, are permitted to run for president.

The office of the Wilayat al Faqih was created for Ayatollah Khomenei, who drove out the Shah, and after Khomenei's death in 1989, Khamenei became the new supreme leader. He is the arbiter of war and peace, which means that he can issue the order to build a nuclear weapon or to reconcile with the "Great Satan" the United States. Khamenei is essentially the country's supreme leader for life, and his decisions are considered irrevocable. Because of this absolute power, he is no different than the autocrats the revolutionaries once vowed to defeat.

On May 19, the leadership in Tehran will deceive the Iranian people. It won't be the regime's first lie, but it is characteristic of the most recent history of the Islamic Republic.The propaganda machine of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, 78, is leading them to believe that they can indeed shape their country's future. If they weren't as afraid of the regime, many Iranians would not only laugh out loud at his audacity, but would also go to the barricades against this phony democracy.

But in the last years, Iran has become a republic of fear. The prisons are filled with countless activists and dissenters, and some of them may be there because they laughed too loudly at Khamenei at some point. Sometimes it doesn't take much to be arrested, interrogated and locked away. But the fear is mutual. While the people tremble at the thought of being apprehended by the regime's henchmen, the leadership is also nervous about new demands for more freedom and democracy.

In past elections, Khamenei made the mistake, disastrous from his standpoint, of allowing candidates to run who aroused hopes of liberalization. After three decades of being ruled by the turban-wearing ayatollahs, merely the prospect of a small measure of freedom was enough to drive millions to the polls and then into the streets, when they believed that their "green movement" had been cheated of its rightful victory.

This time Khamenei is expected to deliberately obstruct a large number of potential candidates who will show only the slightest potential of wanting to question the pure doctrine of the Islamic Republic that the revolutionary leader fiercely defends. The ayatollah is so fearful that he doesn't even permit the candidacy of former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejab. As a result, the political stage is now filled with a group of especially lackluster apparatchiks.

Officially, the constitution does provide for democratic corrective action, a right that many Iranians desperately invoked in the past, constantly pinning their hopes on the next election, the next parliament or the next president. Eventually they also came to believe that Khamenei, who considers himself a man of the people, could not completely ignore their desire for change.

But Khamenei clings tightly to his power and is not interested in the sort of change that has taken hold in many neighboring countries. In the 29th year of his rule, he views any change as a threat. Surrounded by enemies within his own ranks, the ayatollah sees an abyss running alongside the path of the revolution.

The reformers are no longer likely to pose a threat. Although two candidates are considered part of the reform wing, it is questionable whether they will be able to mobilize large numbers of voters. The leader of the green movement is under house arrest, while other dissenters have fled the country or have simply given up.

A greater threat to Khamenei comes from the nationalist wing. For populist Ahmadinejad, nationalism is more important than Islamism. In the populist form of Islam that he preaches, the position of the once untouchable Khamenei is reduced to that of representative of a useless caste of clerics. At first glance, Khamenei now seems stronger than before. The reformers are intimidated, the nationalists, populists have been thwarted, and even the pragmatists have been weakened.

Manipulation and lies are part of the business of politics everywhere. But a system that allows no dissenting views is commonly known as a dictatorship, and an election that isn't one is called camouflage.

By Guylain Gustave Moke
Political Analyst/Writer
International Affairs Expert

Photo-Credit: AFP: Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

NORTH KOREA: Pyongyang's Threats

North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un's regime is busy rattling its sabers again. On Tuesday, Pyongyang warned of a nuclear attack on the Unites States at any sign of a U.S. preemptive strike as U.S. Navy strike group led by a nuclear-powered aircraft steamed towards the Western Pacific.

The Unites States Navy strike group was diverted from planned port calls to Australia and would move towards the western Pacific Ocean near the Korean peninsula as a show of force. US officials said it would still take the strike group more than a week to arrive near the Korean peninsula.

Tension has escalated sharply on the Korean Peninsula with talks of military action by the United States gaining traction following its strikes last week against Syria and amid concerns the reclusive North may soon conduct a sixth nuclear test.

North Korean is emerging as one of the most pressing foreign policy facing Trump's administration. It has conducted five nuclear tests and is working to develop nuclear -tipped missile that can reach the Unites States. Trump's administration is reviewing its policy towards North Korea and has said all options are on the table, including military.

Since last year, the number of bellicose threats coming out of North Korea has increased dramatically, with repeated claims the country might conduct preemptive nuclear strikes against United States targets and invade South Korea.

The US has responded by positioning warships, including the USS McCain, an Aegis-class guided-missile destroyer used for ballistic missile defense, and a giant sea-based radar platform around the Korean Peninsula region. Military aircraft have also been sent to the peninsula. Still, it is not believed that there is much behind the threats other than talk, particularly given the expert assessment that Pyongyang doesn't have nuclear weapons capable of reaching the US.

Although the US appears to be taking the new rhetoric seriously, concerns do not appear to be great in Washington or elsewhere in the West that North Korea is any closer to waging any kind of real war. "Despite the harsh rhetoric we're hearing from Pyongyang, we are not seeing changes to the North Korean military posture, such as large-scale mobilizations and positioning of forces," White House said.

The new tensions between the U.S. and North Korea, come just weeks after Pyongyang conducted its fifth nuclear test. Six-party disarmament talks with North Korea have been stalled since 2008 and experts believe the new rhetoric may increase pressure to restart negotiations.

Fortunately, the probability of a major war remains low. One reason for optimisim is China, and another is the rationality of North Korea's leadership. Those in power in China haven't abandoned the troublemakers on their northeast border, even in the wake of past military attacks, in order to prevent the Kim regimes from collapsing. They prefer to keep the country as a buffer against the United States.

In addition, they are also extremely concerned about a potential mass influx of refugees. But there's one thing China needs even less: open warfare. And this is also clear to North Korea's leaders. Even in times of peace, the regime's survival is dependent on trade, foreign aid, money and goods from China. The chances of winning a war without aid are precisely zero. In the past, North Korea's leaders have calculated very coolly and dared to venture only the things they believed China would accept.

Like his father, the young Kim is well aware that the regime would not survive a real war with the United States. But this blatant threat is the product of clear calculation. It enables an otherwise weak country to appear threatening.

Domestically, it will enable him to score points to mark the Americans as enemies and pit himself against the South Koreans. Abroad, this will perpetuate an image of North Korea remaining unpredictable, which will give the country greater room for maneuver in negotiations. And it is also entirely possible that it will undertake individual military strikes in the border region with South Korea like it did in 2010. But things won't go much further than that.

The question remains as to what could have moved North Korea to heat up the conflict with its increasingly excessive statements. One explanation is that North Korea may wage greater provocations such as a nuclear test timed with various anniversaries, including the Supreme People's Assembly. On Tuesday, North Korea convened a Supreme People's Assembly session, one of its twice year sessions in which major appointments are announced and national policy goals are formally approved.

But also Saturday is the 105th anniversary of the birth of Kim II Sung, the country founding father and grandfather of current ruler, Kin Jong Un. To this end, the war rhetoric would make a certain amount of sense.

By Guylain Gustave Moke
Political Analyst/Writer
International Affairs Expert

Photo-Credit: AFP North Korea's Leader Kim Jon Un

Monday, 10 April 2017

EUROPE: ''Secularism''

Secularism does not imply the prohibition of individual religiosity or of public displays of faith. It merely begs us to abandon any hopes for divine intervention in Europe’s messy state of affairs.

Religion has always been an issue on the European continent. The emergence of Christianity in the Roman Empire laid the foundation for a sacred realm in the post-Roman world that was blessed by the Christian God rather than by the ancient deities. The new God was perceived differently in the North and the South of the continent. The Nordic tribes described their Gods with strength, the Southern tribes invoked beauty.

The German Emperors saw themselves as rightful followers of the Roman Caesars. To legitimize their reign, they bowed before a heavenly monarch: Jesus Christ, the divine king. The Christian way of life shaped Europe and gave Europeans a common cultural heritage. But battles were also fought over the specific understanding of Christian teachings. In England and Germany, two new churches arose out of the medieval bloodshed: The Lutheran Church and the Anglican Church. The unity of the European continent in terms of religion had been broken. North and South were split. Strength against beauty.
Never again!
Astonishingly, Christianity never vanished throughout the course of European history: Humanism, modern science, the period of Enlightenment: All these historical developments opposed Christian teachings of their time but were nonetheless shaped by religious figures, often by members of the clergy. Nicolaus Copernicus was a priest, for example. I guess this strange and strong unity helps us explain why the people of Europe never abandoned Christianity. It is also the reason why Christianity has been very staunch in its support for, or opposition to, various political movements over time.

Take, for instance, the controversy within the Christian churches of how to deal with communism. Communist teachings embraced a lot of Christian thought. But by rooting its ideology exclusively in this world, by separating it from another realm that would be “not from this world”, communism clearly contradicted the Christian understanding of the finality of this world.

So it is no wonder, consequently, that the presence or absence of God in the European project has always been a matter of strong and engaged debates throughout the continent – remember the controversy about the inclusion of a reference to God in the European constitution? To many, invoking God seemed anachronistic in a post-national, post-religious endeavor. Until the French Revolution, every government on earth invoked divine rights for its legitimization and sought the blessings of established religions.

After 1789, the concept of the nation-state became dominant. Both concepts led into disaster and massive destruction. The peace treaty that was signed after the Thirty Years’ War – during which more than half of the population living on soil that belongs to Germany today were killed, and others were wounded, tortured, or raped – speaks for itself: Etsi Deus Non Daretur. The parties agreed to a peace as if God would not exist. They were tired of fighting over theological questions regarding the Last Supper of the Lord, while the whole country was starving. Nationalism played a role in both world wars. The proclamation of “never again” at the beginning of European unification was a definite break with nationalism.

After the destruction of World War II – and this is the flip-side of the European project – there was the need for reconciliation. In the countries that had been occupied by the Nazis, some found the strength to forgive the Germans for what they had done. Forgiveness was fueled by the power and with the support of Christian faith. It is embodied in the common knowledge of the Christian tradition: Christ forgave his persecutors before he died. This ideal of forgiveness has been a role model of the postwar era. It lives on in the inscription “Father Forgive”, added behind the altar of the cathedral of Coventry(England), which had been destroyed by the German air force during World War II.

All this suggests that secularism is not exercised coherently in Europe. Here are several observations:
First, religious beliefs can be a force behind the motivation to engage in politics. Some parties explicitly ground their political engagement in the teachings of Christianity – you can usually identify those parties by the “C” in their acronym -, but the influence of Christianity extends far beyond them.

Many people who don’t identify as overtly religious find meaning in what the Christian religious tradition has to say about engaging in the affairs of the world. Parliamentarians might serve under a purely secular system. However, this is the same system that grants them the right to exercise their freedom of religion and the privilege to believe in whatever God they choose. Clearly, no one would argue that their lives aren’t influenced by their religious beliefs.

Second, freedom of religion is not just an individual right but extends to religious communities as well. Secularism acknowledges that controversial societal questions are debated by a wide range of interest groups. Religious denominations are one example. A secular society that places obstacles before religious groups, and thus impedes their ability to contribute to societal discourses, secular pluralism ceases to function. The idea loses its credibility.

Third, Western secularism has learnt how to deal with religion against the backdrop of the Christian Occident. Secularism and Christianity, have learnt how to live with each other: Conflicts have been fought and settled over the relationship between secular and Christian authorities, and over the hierarchy of the two.

German law still includes the so-called “Staatskirchenrecht” that regulates the relations between church and state. Every German state maintains a concordat with the the Catholic Church and the Protestant Church. This documents the relation of the state with the church in relation to education, for example. It goes without saying that the religious map of Europe has changed over the centuries, and especially since the 1950s. A strong Muslim minority has emerged in each country of the European Union, and we have witnessed the rise of a certain sensitivity towards other, smaller religious groups.

Finally, we acknowledge those who don’t identify with religion at all. The consequence is that the classical “Staatskirchenrecht” has to be transformed into a modern “Religionsrecht”: Instead of defining the relationship between the state and the Catholic church, we must spell out the rights and duties of religions within a secular system. But scholars hardly argue about that.

Fourth, I argue that religious speech is linguistically different from other forms of speech. I follow the philosopher Jacques Derrida, who wrote that a couple swears lifelong devotion during a wedding, and that a politician swears solemnly when reciting the oath of office. They speak as if a third party listened and had to confirm the words that are uttered.

Derrida makes the following point: If you vow, be it while marrying or while sworn into office, you swear. Swear morphes into an-swear, written today as answer. Our existence sometimes requires, or longs for, an aspiration or confirmation that transcends our human condition. Religion has conserved this longing for enduring testimony in its very specific language, not only in worlds but also in symbols. Many court buildings are adorned with painted sceneries of Judgment Day. The visible display of Judgment Day and of the Christian cross embodies the hope for ultimate justice, carried out on earth. The religious motive is a vehicle that links the worldly struggle to the idea of divine justice.

Fifth, religious symbolism is a natural component of culture. Today, many different languages are spoken in the European Union, but Christian iconography harks back to a time when only the elites were capable of reading and writing. The cross, which is arguably the most visible religious sign in Europe today, is such an icon. It expresses a part of our cultural identity.
Christianity has ceased to be a religion
On all these points, the faithful and non-believers can agree. The ground is prepared for a sixth observation:
Christianity has become such a big part of our perceived reality and of European civilization that it is not regarded as a religion anymore. It has become a set of symbols, a set of values, a set of stories, a set of utopias, and so forth.

I do not mean this disrespectfully. I do not mean this in the sense of Karl Rahner, who argued in his book “Anonymous Christians” that we are all religious, since we subconsciously subscribe to a basic set of Christian principles.

Let me give an example: During the world-famous passion play at Oberammergau in Bavaria in 2010, the director mentioned that he was less than a lousy Catholic. A discussion erupted whether a non-believer should direct the story of the passion of Christ. Surely he can: The story of Jesus’ suffering isn’t the exclusive property of the Catholic Church or of Christians. It belongs to everybody. Fragments from the Christian tradition are found in songs of the Beatles and in the writings of Albert Camus.

What are the consequences of these observations? Today, Europe is becoming increasingly aware of the intertwined relationship of the secular state and the Christian religion. It’s no contradiction that, according to a recent survey, 70 percent of Europeans declared that they strive to live their lives according to basic Christian principles while church attendance continues to decline.

Europe is also made aware of this particular liaison by the growth of the Muslim population. Islam is not as familiar to most of Europeans as Christianity. It carries the insignia of a religion that aren’t present anymore in the faith of our fathers: religious conviction, dogmatic beliefs, a religiously infused lifestyle, and the proclamation of some sort of divine truth. The rise of European Muslim communities is accompanied by the rise of fundamental Christian groups, who raise suspicions even within the conservative Catholic hierarchy.

Pope John Paul II was once asked (long before he fell ill) if the churches of the reformation are indeed Christian churches. He said yes. But, he added, Pentecostals and Evangelicals are not. They shorten the Christian message and resort to simple answers that cannot be supported by the Christian faith.

This leads us to one crucial aspect that will be predominate any further debate in the European Union about religion: The supremacy of the law over religious convictions. Interest groups of the traditional Christian churches have had to learn the art of secular discourse. Of course, the Roman Catholic Church bans abortion, but it acknowledges that secular laws might allow it. The mission of the Church isn’t to sidestep the law, it is to influence its content.
Secularism does not prohibit religiosity
Although the Acts of the Apostels – the fifth book of the New Testament – says that one ought to be more obedient to God than to man, no Christian church would demand that their faithful brethren overthrow the secular state and its rule of law. But this is not a given in debates with Muslim communities: Islam hasn’t been subjected to the same historical processes that shaped Christian churches in Europe.

I don’t mean to blame Muslims. The flourishing of new religions on the continent helps us see the contradictions that we have grown accustomed to. One recent bloomer: A soldier in the British Royal Navy fought for his right to practice Satanism on board of his ship. The court sided with him on the grounds of freedom of religion. This may sound strange to our (secular) ears, because linguistically we are still shaped by the Christian belief that “The Beast” must not be worshipped.

In Germany, a new constitution might be in order within the next few years. The Constitutional Court alluded in this direction because of the further integration of Europe and the legal problems it raises under the current constitutional framework. Depending on how far integration proceeds, a new constitutions might be in order. Would it still mention God in its preamble? Would it still protect Christian holidays as holy? (Currently, the police is authorized to break up loud parties on Good Friday, since it’s protected as a day of national contemplation.)

Will an example from the City of Oxford become the norm? It recently ruled that no Christmas trees could be erected in public places, lest non-Christians be offended. This is as silly as it sounds, and it will be a passing phenomenon. We will not follow the American model and avoid saying „Merry Christmas“ in favor of „Happy Holidays“. Why would we have to? Secularism does not imply the prohibition of individual religiosity or of public displays of faith. Secularism means being aware of the fact the achievements of Europe do not rest on divine intervention.

Calling for help from above – instead of working towards secular and worldly solutions – is a declaration of bankruptcy of the credo Etsi Deus Non Daretur by which we have run our public affairs since 1648. The slogan “As if God did not exist” implies a simple and convincing message: We don’t have to ascertain or rule out God’s existence to be able to embrace the secular tradition.

By Guylain Gustave Moke
Political Analyst/Writer
International Affairs Expert

Photo-Credit: AFP--