Thursday, 27 February 2014

FRANCE: France’s military interventionism

Following a unanimous resolution at the United Nations Security Council on December 5, French president François Hollande announced the dispatch of 1,600 soldiers to the Central African Republic (CAR). Like most French foreign deployments, this new operation will bear the name of an animal: the Central African butterfly Sangaris, which was chosen to epitomize the operation’s fleeting and temporary nature.

Some intellectuals and public commentators are overtly calling France a neoconservative nation. The Economist, for instance, published a stinging article in January, arguing that while Hollande was a “strident neocon” in international affairs, he lacked political decisiveness at home. Has France really become a neoconservative nation?

At first sight, many parallels with the U.S. foreign policy can be drawn. In fact, France has multiplied its foreign operations in recent years. It seems as though France is going through a troubling interventionist moment in which the use of force is employed in a more systematic and knee-jerk manner. Moreover, France maintains a residual presence where it intervenes to oversee “post-conflict stabilization" – a concept eerily reminiscent of the United States’ past excesses in the Middle East.

One can go as far as drawing parallels between Sarkozy and Hollande’s increasingly idealist and moralizing rhetoric, and president Bush’s “Wilsonism in boots.” Oddly enough, democracy promotion and the “war on terror” have become salient themes in the French official discourse. The terrorist threat is also widely felt at home, following the Merah affair last year. Will it be a paltry European remake of the Orwellian measures taken by Bush in the wake of 9/11?

Another theme that could vindicate a comparison between France and Bush’s policies is the tendency to promote “regime change” in foreign countries, as was the case of Laurent Gbagbo’s arrest in the Ivory Coast and Qaddafi’s overthrow in Libya. Recently, president Hollande caused great astonishment by implying that Michel Djotodia, CAR’s new president, would have to leave power when order is re-established. Furthermore, by nudging the U.S. on the path to intervention, and placing itself at the vanguard of the diplomatic effort to launch strikes on Syria, France surely took a very activist and liberal role.

However, arguing that France has become conservative would be erroneous and dangerous. Unlike the U.S in Iraq, Sarkozy and Hollande put a point of honour in respecting international norms and legality when sending troops to a foreign country. Let us recall that in 2003, France refused to bandwagon with the U.S. and Britain to attack Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. For now, the United Nations’ imprimatur has come to sanction every intervention France has launched.

This, of course, is potentially subject to change; Hollande earlier stated he was ready to strike Syria despite the UNSC not approving it. But until such a threat is realized, the label of neoconservatism seems somewhat far-fetched. What’s more, the reasons for intervening have so far never been underpinned by lies and deceit. France only intervened when the urgency of the situation demanded it, to protect its self-interest, and to fulfill its duty of assistance and solidarity.

Moreover, France has always sought limited and pragmatic objectives when it decided to intervene. Unlike the U.S. and its extravagant agenda for the Middle East, France pursued delimited and lucid goals in its various missions. And crucially, Sarkozy and Hollande’s idealist rhetoric is mild in comparison with the virulent, confrontational and simplified “us-against-them” rhetoric the Bush administration used. France’s idealism is mostly the remnant of a tradition of grandeur and international prestige instilled by De Gaulle and Mitterand – much less so than by George W. Bush.

Therefore, arguing that France has become neoconservative is highly misleading and erroneous if we consider the true essence of Bushism and the U.S. foreign policy in the wake of 9/11. France’s foreign policy has certainly taken an activist and liberal turn, surely in response to its declining domestic strength, and protects its exceptional aura in international affairs. But only those who wish to disparage France will use the adjective “neoconservative” to qualify its action. The rest would be wise to bear in mind some of the groundlessness that this imputation entails.

By Guylain Gustave Moke
Political Analyst/Writer
Investigative Journalist

Photo-Credit: Le Monde-French Newspaper, French President Francois-Hollande

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

AFRICA: How to secure Africa's Socio-Economic Growth?

Sub-Saharan Africa has seen impressive economic growth over the last decade. And the positive trend continues. In 2013, the region grew by an average of 5 percent – more rapidly than 70 percent of the world’s countries.

There has been progress on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the eight internationally agreed objectives to end poverty by 2015, including considerable improvements in primary education, gender equality and the fight against HIV/AIDS. However, many countries will not achieve most of these goals.

Across Africa, inequalities in income, health and education persist, restricting people’s options for building better futures. In many cases, these multiple layers of deprivation intersect and reinforce one another, trapping people in vicious cycles of poverty.

Some of these inequalities are known as “horizontal” because they are group-based, creating social and economic disparities based on region, ethnicity, religion, gender or language. The examples abound. Across Africa, children in urban areas are twice as likely as those in rural areas to be in school. In addition, 70 percent of active men and 85 percent of active women are in vulnerable employment.

Such horizontal inequalities can prevent marginalized groups from participating meaningfully in elections and from being represented in the design and implementation of development policies, perpetuating exclusion.

In the absence of appropriate mechanisms for channelling disputes, building consensus and redressing these inequalities, struggles over power and resources can ignite violent conflict. For instance, the current violence in the Central African Republic is driven by a lack of space for political and social dialogue and an inability to address, in a participatory and inclusive manner, long-standing horizontal inequalities.

Furthermore, what started as a conflict over power and influence involving political elites, military groups and criminal gangs, took on religious undertones, spiralling into mass killings and separating Muslims and Christians that had lived in the same neighbourhoods.

Exploitation of ethnic differences can also be observed in South Sudan, where political groups are fighting over influence and resources. The fighting has trickled down to the community level.
Avoiding conflict and reducing poverty in Africa will require sustained efforts to promote inclusive development.

First, the continent faces the challenge of building economies that can create jobs and more equal opportunities for all. In many countries, better managing revenues from extractive resources holds the key to economic diversification and investing back into communities, through quality infrastructure and social services. In addition, developing agriculture, which employs up to 60 percent of Africa’s workforce, most of them women, can be another effective way to reduce poverty in rural areas, where many marginalized groups live.

Second, securing equal political representation for disenfranchised populations is key to ensuring they can participate in key decisions and enjoy the same levels of development at the national and the local level. When elections take place, political inclusion can also prevent vote-rigging, “winner takes all” politics and electoral violence, while involving youths is particularly important to avoid conflict.

In Kenya, for example, the principles of equality and non-discrimination are now enshrined in the Constitution, attempting to eliminate the ethnic and regional tensions which fuelled the post-election violence of 2007.

Third, countries in Africa must equip themselves with effective national and grassroots mechanisms to build social cohesion and prevent conflict. Such mechanisms have been experimented in countries such as Ghana, where the National Peace Architecture has promoted community dialogue and raised early warning alerts since 2005. Others have successfully promoted recovery through cash transfers or local development schemes aiming to build trust among local communities, across ethnic and religious divides.

Fourth, social protection, for instance through public works, school-feeding programs or insurance schemes can play a key role in ensuring that poor and marginalized groups can recover from crises, absorb economic shocks and lift themselves out of extreme poverty. Social pension initiatives in South Africa, Lesotho, Botswana and Namibia have been successful in that regard.

Horizontal inequalities in Africa can have debilitating effects on human development and economic growth. In 2012, UNDP’s inequality adjusted Human Development Index (HDI) revealed losses of approximately 35 percent in levels of human development for most African countries, due to inequality in life expectancy, education and income across the population.

Making sure people from all backgrounds in Africa can lead equally long, healthy and productive lives is not only a human right but a smart economic and development measure. Working to redress these imbalances can have considerable impact in helping Africa to achieve the transition between economic growth to sustainable and inclusive human development.

By Guylain Gustave Moke
Political Analyst/Writer
Investigative Journalist

Photo-Credit: AFP-

BELGIUM: The 2014 elections & linguistic conflict

On 25 May 2014, Belgian citizens will participate in the European, federal, regional and community elections. These simultaneous elections have been named “the mother of all elections” as Belgian voters tend not to split their ticket. In other words, the party that loses these elections will probably remain in the opposition at all these policy levels for the next five years. But the central attention in these elections turns – once again – on the linguistic issue and the electoral performance of the Flemish nationalist party New Flemish Alliance (N-VA).

The Belgian linguistic conflict – that mainly comprises Flemish (Dutch-speaking) and French-speaking parties – is particularly salient at election times. Broadly speaking, Flemish citizens cannot vote for French-speaking parties and French-speaking citizens cannot vote for Flemish parties. As a result, the electoral system favours the polarisation of the campaign on each side of the linguistic border: parties will not be sanctioned by the voters if they unfairly “attack” the parties from the other community. Media also contribute to the polarisation of the parties during the campaign, as articles on the linguistic conflict are obviously more appealing than news on the obscure debates regarding the financing of social security.

Elections are also the ideal moment for parties to present their vision for the future of the Belgian state. With the renewed federal assembly comes the possibility of revising the Constitution and therefore the possibility to change the institutions and the set of rules that govern the relations between the two communities (the so-called linguistic laws). In their manifestos and electoral discourses, parties emphasise these aspects and present their “recipes” for the governance and the sustainability of the country. By definition, the positions of the N-VA on these issues have an important impact on the campaign, on both sides of the linguistic border. Parties and media scrutinise the priorities and the content of the manifesto of the Flemish nationalists as they will largely set the pace for the electoral campaign.

The N-VA is clearly on the rise. The party decided in September 2008 to leave the electoral alliance signed with the Christian-democrat party CD&V and to participate in the elections on its own. The first opinion polls indicated that the 5 per cent threshold used in Belgian elections could be an issue for the N-VA; yet, in the regional elections of 2009, the Flemish nationalist party obtained over 13 per cent of the votes in Flanders, far above the threshold. Together with the CD&V and the Socialist Party (sp.a), the N-VA entered the Flemish government.

The 2010 federal elections led to a “political earthquake” in Flanders: the N-VA obtained just over 28 per cent of the votes in Flanders and became Belgium’s largest party. Consequently the N-VA was associated to the talks for the government formation and the reform of the state structure. After almost a year and a half of political crisis, a new federal government was formed, leaving the Flemish nationalists in the opposition. In 2012, the N-VA participated to the 2012 local and provincial elections. The party once again obtained over 28 per cent of the votes in the Flemish provinces and entered several local governments. The party leader Bart De Wever became mayor of Flanders’ largest city, Antwerp.

Yet, the results of the party for the 2012 provincial elections do not match with opinion polls. Since September 2010, almost all opinion polls have given the N-VA over 30 per cent of vote intentions in Flanders, with the party even reaching 40 per cent in some polls. But all polling institutes confirm that the impressive and linear growth of the party’s popularity since 2008 has stopped and has even declined since the end of 2012. Most opinion polls now predict that in May 2014 the party will be likely to obtain electoral results very close to those obtained in 2010.

Compared to 2010, the N-VA has officially changed its position regarding the future of Belgium. The N-VA still wants independence for Flanders in the long term, but this demand for independence is no longer a priority for the party. This objective is even absent from the first drafts of its manifesto for the 2014 elections. The focus is rather on an intermediary step: Confederalism. The notion of Confederalism was already present in the previous manifestos of the party, but was emphasised to a much lesser extent.

Remarkably, these demands for an evolution of the Belgian federal structure into a confederation were in 2010 shared by the CD&V and the liberal party Open VLD. Recently, the Open VLD decided to give up its demands for a confederal Belgium and focus on socio-economic issues. The CD&V still believes in the virtues of confederalism, but now defends a so-called “positive confederalism” that would aim at preventing the split of Belgium.

But why would the N-VA give up its objective of an independent Flanders? The answer is quite simple: the party wants to give the image of a moderate nationalist party. This strategy relies on a double aim. First, the party does not want to scare voters that might be put off by radical proposals on the future of Belgium. Research indicates that only 12 to 15 per cent of Flemish voters want an independent Flanders, and recent opinion polls indicate that the party needs to attract new voters if it wants to be considered as the winner of the 2014 elections.

Second, the party does not want to scare the other parties as this would damage its appeal as a negotiating partner in government formations. As the formations of the next regional and national governments are likely to be linked (i.e. the same parties will be in power at both levels), exclusion from the negotiations would mean being relegated to the opposition for five long years at both policy levels. In 2010, the N-VA could adopt a more radical profile as the party was part of the Flemish regional government after the 2009 regional elections.

Altogether, the next regional and federal elections of May 2014 will presumably be similar to the 2010 elections. After the electoral shock of 2010, one should observe a stabilisation of the Flemish party system. With the exception of the extreme-left party PVDA, which is likely to obtain a few seats, there are no new parties emerging in Flanders. Opinion polls do not indicate large differences in vote shares for all established parties and suggest that the N-VA will again obtain about 28 per cent of the votes.

Unsurprisingly, the electoral campaign will be dominated by the polarising linguistic conflict between Flemish and French-speaking parties. Party positions on this issue have not changed much since the last elections. All French-speaking parties still oppose any further state reform and decentralisation while, in Flanders, the two largest parties – N-VA and CD&V – clearly demand a new round of reforms, leading to more autonomy for Flanders.

The strategic moderation of the position of the N-VA regarding the independence of Flanders is only a façade and many observers state that the confederalism advocated by the nationalist party is very close to genuine separatism.

Let's hope that Belgians decision-makers have learnt from the long political crisis that emerged from the 2010 elections. Otherwise, Belgians are probably condemned to go through the same events.

By Guylain Gustave Moke
Political Analyst/Writer
Investigative Journalist

Photo-Credit: AFP- Belgium Parliament

Monday, 24 February 2014

UKRAINE: Revolution, Tymoshenko, Russia & EU

Yulia Tymoshenko has lost none of her oratorical powers. As soon as Ukraine’s former prime minister was released from prison on February 23, she flew to Kiev to address thousands of protesters who for weeks have occupied the city’s Independence Square.

Speaking from a wheelchair because of her back problems, Tymoshenko urged people to continue the demonstrations. She also vowed to re-enter politics, earning loud cheers from the crowd.

But if Tymoshenko is serious about playing a role in Ukrainian politics, she cannot afford to repeat the mistakes she made when she was first prime minister in 2005 and again between 2007 and 2010.
Then, she quarrelled with other pro-democracy leaders, squandering the gains of the country’s Orange Revolution of 2004–2005 through infighting and intrigue. She also failed to introduce any serious economic, political, or social reforms. And she pursued politics that sharpened polarization in Ukraine.

Now, Germany, Poland, and France have forged a deal for Ukraine that includes early presidential elections, a return to the 2004 constitution, and an independent inquiry into the use of violence by the security forces. If that agreement is to work, Tymoshenko and other opposition leaders must embrace the politics of unity and inclusion, not division and revenge.

That will be difficult to achieve after the terrible violence and deaths of the past week—not to mention years of corruption and false promises. Ukrainians want results, not egos.

Germany and Poland in particular will continue to play a crucial role. Berlin has considerable scope for influencing the Ukrainian opposition. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has some sway over Tymoshenko, whose release from prison she had long supported.

On February 23, Merkel spoke to Tymoshenko and to Vladimir Putin, the Russian president. Merkel may not like Putin, but she knows his support for the new order in Ukraine is fundamental. Germany and Russia both have much to lose if this deal unravels.

So has Poland. Radek Sikorski, the Polish foreign minister, was instrumental in brokering the deal between then president Viktor Yanukovych and the opposition. Warsaw’s support is needed to help keep Ukraine’s opposition united and Russia on board.

That might be easier now that Yanukovych has left Kiev after Ukraine’s parliament voted on February 23 to strip him of his powers. But Sikorski is well aware of how the opposition has been radicalized and how vulnerable eastern Ukraine—a part of the country that traditionally looks toward Russia—must now feel.

Many people in the east regarded the protesters in Kiev as Western stooges and will find it difficult to trust the opposition leaders. Sikorski will have to convince Ukraine’s new leadership that now is the time to reach out to that part of the population.

In this, the Polish foreign minister can draw on his own country’s experience at the end of the Cold War. Even though the Communists and the Kremlin had imposed martial law on Poland to crush the independent Solidarity movement, in 1989 the country’s leaders opted for an inclusive, transitional government until free and democratic elections were held. That decision was crucial for Poland’s peaceful path to democracy.

Of course, Ukraine is different and angrier. But if the new leadership in Kiev gives in to the temptation of revenge, it will play into the hands of Russia and die-hard Yanukovych supporters. Russia has stopped the $15 billion loan it had granted to Yanukovych last November just before he rejected a trade and association agreement with the EU. Yet Putin must have seen the dangerous possibility of Ukraine lurching into civil war. That could hardly have served Moscow’s interests.

As for the EU, it needs to understand that throwing money at Ukraine is not a panacea. Nor is it enough to issue bland statements about how the association accord is still on the table. Yes, Ukraine needs financial assistance after years of corruption, abuse of state assets, neglected infrastructure, and oligarchs’ indifference to the fate of their country. Yes, Ukraine needs a perspective. But what Ukraine needs much more is for Ukrainians themselves to grasp that these “revolutions” cannot be repeated over and over with nothing to show for it.

The opposition and what is left of Yanukovych’s Party of the Regions need a reckoning of the state of the economy and how much money has been siphoned off. Then they need to decide, together, where they want to go. They also need a transparent and accountable overhaul of the security forces and a complete dismantling of the titushky, the hired thugs the government brought in to shoot and beat demonstrators.

Above all, Ukraine’s new leaders need to decide whether they want a stable, democratic country or a dysfunctional one sustained by cronyism, corruption, and manipulation by oligarchs.

The tasks are huge and will take a long time to accomplish. But they should not prove impossible if the political will is there. Ukraine, together with Germany, Poland, and Russia, must realize that the hard work has only just begun.

By Guylain Gustave Moke
Political Analyst

Photo-Credit: AFP- Ukraine's European Revolution