Our Sick Doctors.

January 2, 2009


At the moment, the Congress of South African Trade Unions’ leadership, impatient for anything which could distract their membership from their corrupt betrayal of everything the workers have ever desired and their theft of their members’ dues to finance the luxurious lifestyle of the thugs and fascists of the Communist Party — but the Creator digresses — is busy denouncing Trevor Manuel.


The substance of the denunciation is easily summed up: none. Rather, what they say is that he is rich and serves rich people (which is, of course, true) and that his economic policies have not helped the poor (which is false, but contains a small grain of truth). Therefore he must be got rid of.


What all this means is that apart from distraction, which COSATU’s leadership finds so important, there is also another issue, namely, the fact that when the Zuma gang first fired Manuel in September they were ordered to withdraw this by big business. They are planning to get rid of Manuel at some stage — preferably before the forthcoming election, because Manuel might make public criticisms of their manifesto pledges which could weaken their position in that election. (One thing which the Zuma gang are good at is ensuring that their enemies are outside the tent pissing in; Luthuli House is now completely awash with urine, and the smell would be horrible if the stench of corruption there were not so all-pervasive that it overwhelms everything else.)


But none of this smearing has any real substance, for it is all about politics and appearances and pretense. Unless anyone presents an alternative to Manuel’s economic policies through which these policies can be meaningfully critiqued, none of this abuse matters a tinker’s cuss. No such alternative has been worked through apart from a few rhetorical flourishes. It seems that the people abusing Manuel are not concerned with such things because what is important is not to discuss the future economy of South Africa, but rather to find someone to blame for the current problems faced by the people, and the future ruination of the fiscus.


Let’s rather consider what Manuel did before considering what should be done in the future. Manuel is as overpraised by some as he is slated by the South African Left, invariably on foolish grounds, but there is a reality out there which needs to be attended to.


In reality, Manuel pursued a very simple agenda, which was easily followed: keep the budget deficit low. This goal was pursued for two separate reasons. With a low budget deficit, international credit ratings agencies would give South Africa a good rating and therefore foreigners would want to invest money and thus boost economic growth. Also, a low budget deficit meant that proportionately more money could be spent on activities rather than on debt servicing — whereas a high budget deficit raised the possibility of the kind of debt trap which Zimbabwe plunged into.


This was a prudent agenda, but it had disadvantages. The most obvious one was that on the occasions where South Africa got a good credit rating, it still did not get substantial foreign investment. This was because foreigners wanted to invest elsewhere, where the likely profits were higher (even though this was often not the case). Cutting the budget deficit meant restraining public spending. Of course, Manuel could have increased taxes, but since he wanted to attract foreign investment he wanted to represent South Africa as a low-tax environment, competing with the many other low-tax environments in the world. In this he failed. Also, depending on foreign investment meant that Manuel could not afford to impose the exchange controls which might have prevented capital flight and thus ensured more domestic investment.


Also, the problem was that this was ultimately a non-Keynesian approach, or seemed to be. South Africa was economically under-active. Therefore, arguably, what was needed was to borrow a lot of money and pour it into stimulating demand. Manuel was afraid of doing this because he feared that this would not promote economic growth sufficiently (the massive budget deficits of the early 1990s had failed to stimulate growth). During the GEAR period (1996-2002) when the deficit was particularly being slashed, Manuel was thus probably right to fear excessive borrowing.


However, after the GEAR period, when economic growth took off, this fear seemed less valid. Certainly, social spending increased. However, it could not make up for the damage done by half a decade of curbs — partly because so much social spending was going into the inflated salaries of civil servants. Also, there was a great deal of corruption and waste across the board which meant that increased spending was not as successful as it ought to have been.


But this was not altogether Manuel’s fault. He was providing the money; it was not his fault alone that corruption and waste had not been reduced. This problem seems to have been partly inertia, and partly the weakness of central government. For whatever the reason, central government was reluctant to mobilise the public against poor “service delivery”, and without broad public campaigns, it was difficult to legitimate campaigns against corrupt provincial and local authorities.


Perhaps the problem was also that at provincial and municipal level it was easier to mobilise mass support than at national level. In 2006 councillors were organising “service delivery protests” to get themselves popularity; Matatiele and Khutsong demonstrate how easy it is for local leaders to persuade the public to pursue self-destructive local campaigns for dubious paranoid goals. Indeed, the whole Zuma campaign was based partly in this. However, perhaps the problem may partly be traced back to a distinct elitist flavour to Mbeki’s — and most of the ANC’s — preferred politics.


In any case, Manuel accomplished much and probably did as well as could be done before about 2004, but after this his accomplishments looked less impressive simply because the need for action was so great, while (partly because of the civil war in the ANC figureheaded by Zuma) the performance was so unsatisfactory. However, the problem is not simply that Manuel is still there, still doing the same things — the real problem is that the other preconditions for economic growth along with social development and wealth redistribution are not being met. Throwing more money into the economy has the potential to be helpful, but only if other things are done as well, and unfortunately these other things are politically sensitive, which running up a huge budget deficit is not. (Paradoxically, cutting the budget deficit has proved to be much more politically harmful.)


Controls on consumer imports are necessary to ensure that the money introduced in the economy is spent locally (and also to reduce the import deficit to manageable proportions). However, such controls will be frowned upon by the World Trade Organisation (which wants us to buy as much as possible from Western countries). More to the point, rich South Africans would hate having to pay more for their precious consumables, or worse still, not being able to get them at all. Many retailers would hate having to sell South African goods (the potential profits would be lower, for the prices would be lower). In many cases, furthermore, there is no domestic producer, and no prospect of one developing, since local manufacturing is not developing significantly. Therefore these controls would be problematic.


Controls on the movement of currency is a natural corollary to import controls. At the moment South Africa’s trade deficit is funded by foreign currency inflows. If we did not have a deficit we could curb currency movements. This could then keep money in the country, which is better than allowing it to leave without hindrance and depending on unreliable funding from foreigners. If South Africa were awash with investment capital it would be much more likely that some of that cash would be spent on building local production — especially with a guaranteed market and restricted competition. However, the rich believe that sending their money abroad is the royal road to greater wealth, and therefore they have fought fiercely for the lifting of exchange controls, and would fight still more fiercely against their reimposition. Zuma’s clique appear to be even more subservient to, and terrified of, the ruling class than Mbeki’s clique — which means that getting rid of Manuel is not going to bring any kind of real benefit for the wider economy.


But then that means that measures have to be pursued to promote domestic production — both manufacturing and agriculture. Not only do there have to be subsidies for manufacturing (and probably for agriculture too), but there have to be arrangements for marketing the manufactured goods and the agricultural products. Otherwise the whole process would be too risky — too much money would be wasted on failed projects. The government would need to get involved in the development process directly, to ensure that projects worked efficiently and sustainably. The ruling class wouldn’t like that — especially because their desire would be for quick money, even if this were unsustainable and failing in the long run.


But developing production would be useless unless transport and communications arrangements were efficient and widespread. Also, the skills shortage could cripple such developments. Crime could be a crucial handicap. All in all, then, not only do these things need to be done against the wishes of the ruling class, but also the education, policing, prisons and even the health care crises need to be dealt with — all of which are problems which are predominantly caused by bad management, weak personnel management especially, and distorted priorities. (The rich want to see their children educated, their own interests served by the police and the justice system, and their own health care attended to.) What’s more, there’s the electricity and water crisis, the environmental crisis, the housing crisis — all these could blow up at any time, and can be lumped under the issue of infrastructure. All these need to be integrated into the other problems.


What we need is a carefully worked-out ten-year national plan for developing our capacities in every way. The Mbeki government never really came up with this, which is one reason why Manuel was not as successful as he could have been. There is, however, no sign that the Zuma government even knows that this is a problem. (Naturally, nobody outside the ANC is talking about such things, because, as pointed out above, the ruling class hates plans like plagues, since any planning would take authority and even wealth away from them.)


But instead we are told that any problems are Manuel’s fault. Or Mbeki’s fault. Or the fault of some other carefully demonised individual. And the solution is not policy development, management or planning — the solution is to give all power to some carefully deified individual. Our health-care system is in crisis, sure. But the real problem with our country is that our political doctors are sick, sick, sick deep down inside. The rest of us, admittedly, are also sick — of them.


But, apparently, not quite sick enough.






American Graffiti.

January 2, 2009

We in Africa often compliment ourselves on managing to stay out of the cross-hairs of American imperialism. Unlike Italy we did not support the invasion of Serbia. Unlike Brazil we did not support the invasion of Haiti. Unlike Germany we did not support the invasion of Afghanistan. Unlike Britain we did not support the invasion of Iraq. As compared with much of the world, we are squeaky-clean.
Of course many people here in South Africa, the kind of person who believes what they read in the newspapers and votes for the Democratic Alliance or one of its satellite parties, think that all that is a very very bad thing and that we should have made our contribution to turning the planet into a cesspit.
But hold on a moment. We did not support the Rwandan/Ugandan invasion of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, but we did not oppose it either, and that invasion (unlike the previous year’s invasion of Mobutu’s Zaire) turned a large chunk of that country into a jungle version of Auschwitz and militarised the rest of a country which desperately needed to be demilitarised after thirty years of corrupt military dictatorship. Yes, there were African countries which backed the DRC — pretty much the whole of Africa except Rwanda and Uganda, in fact, and some of them sent troops to help. But that didn’t save the millions who died or the society which was yet again broken and which has never really recovered. And now the Rwandans are pulling the same stunt again.
Almost certainly with American backing. But of course nobody is looking or thinking. Instead, as usual, they are saying how terrible the Africans are to be fighting among themselves. How uncivilised.
Ironically, meanwhile the French have managed to grab one of the people who, they say, was responsible for sparking the breakdown of the Rwandan ceasefire in 1994. You may remember that OAU mediation successfully brokered an end to the civil war there — the invasion of Rwanda out of Uganda by the Rwandan Patriotic Front, a justifiable invasion because the Rwandan government was corrupt and brutal. But the Rwandan President accepted compromise terms — and then his plane was shot down on the way back from the talks, which the RPF used as an excuse to resume the war which they knew they would win. The French, who had backed the Kigali government, were cross, since they knew the Americans were backing the RPF, and they’ve always suspected that the RPF shot the plane down. Now they claim they have evidence and have arrested this Rwandan diplomat whom they say was one of the masterminds.
Very probably they’re telling the truth. Note that if this is true, the Americans provoked as well as opening the way for the Rwandan genocide. This might help explain why they did so much to stop the UN from debating it; maybe they were afraid that someone would talk. In other words, where the Americans touch Africa, pyramids of skulls spring up — half a million in Rwanda, three or four million in the DRC. It seems that they can do this without anyone asking too many unkind questions.
This does come to mind when one looks at Somalia. Somalia is kind of forgotten about when we slap ourselves on the back. We know that the Sudanese situation is pretty bad, but we also know that the big war — the SPLA one in the South — has been held off, even though the Americans are now rearming the SPLA as if they are planning a comeback. We also know that the small war — the Darfur one in the West — has diminished in scope, and is trivial in comparison to other wars in Africa, even though it is the one in all the headlines (and the million people in the refugee camps are still there). Somalia didn’t have a recognised government for a decade and a half. Somalia doesn’t have a seat at the table. Somalia is even fragmented into its former colonial elements. Who cares about Somalia?
But Somalia exists. If you remember so far back, it was once a puppet state of the great Soviet Empire, or so we were told. Then it became a puppet state of the great American Empire, when the neighbouring Ethiopians became a puppet state of the great Soviet Empire, or so we were told. So the two of them sent mighty armoured forces which neither of them could afford into the Ogaden Desert which neither of them had any use for, and slaughtered each other, the remainder mostly dying of thirst. The tanks are still there; it takes a long time for a T-54 to rust away completely.
Well, then there was no need for the Americans to help out Somalia, and it disintegrated (since its Great Dear Leader commanded no support outside his praetorian guard). After a year or so, the UN sent them a few bags of food. (Did the Creator happen to mention that, like the Ethiopians, they were starving all this time, due to droughts and no infrastructure maintenance because all the money had gone on heaps of rust in the Ogaden desert?) The American empire then noted that its President needed some sort of victory urgently in order to be re-elected, the American voting public having already forgotten that the previous year he had scored a titanic victory over the evil Iraqi empire. (Those pesky voters were more worried about unemployment, for some reason.) So the Americans invaded Somalia. And those pesky Somalians, not knowing what was good for them, shot back at the Americans, who were compelled to kill a few thousand (mostly civilians) who were of course caught in the crossfire and in any case these people have no regard for human life and are flogged into battle by their officers and so on and so forth.
Then the Americans went away and the destroyed state was left to ferment in the warm sun for a decade with no interference and especially no assistance.
What then happened was rather unusual and yet not so surprising. With every other element of society disintegrated — except for clan loyalties, which meant that the country was riven by dozens of armed gangs trying to collect tolls from each other — the only surviving unifying factor was religion. And, since it was Islamic, sharia law meant that there had to be courts, which, being fairly non-partisan, became popular. But since they had to enforce the law against people with guns, they needed guns themselves. And so the Islamic Courts became a) the biggest gang around, and b) the only gang with multipartisan support.
So, one fine day, the Islamic Courts decided to unify the country and began speedily doing a very good job of it, spreading out from Mogadishu and gobbling up the little gangsters like chocolate-covered cherries, yummy!
Meanwhile, suddenly, the West was shocked! Shocked! to discover that there appeared to be a degree of anarchy in Somalia. The Americans were particularly worried that the place was absolutely filled with al-Qaeda. (The absence of evidence has never bothered the American empire.) So it was agreed that there would be a true, representative government in Somalia, and to establish this, some expatriate Somalian businessmen (Somalia has always had a thriving entrepreneurial culture, which is why so many Somalian businessmen are murdered in South Africa) were grouped together in a government and given some money to hire mercenaries. They invaded southern Somalia out of Kenya, which was working with the Americans on this. They did absolutely splendidly so long as there was no opposition to them, but then a couple of people with guns arrived saying that they were from the Islamic Courts militia, and the Western-backed government immediately fled over the Kenyan border and went into a huddle in the nearest air-conditioned three-star hotel.
So the Americans empire went for Plan B. Plan B entailed bribing the Ethiopians to launch an invasion of Somalia. Ethiopians love launching invasions, even across the Ogaden again. (The Islamic Courts had been blustering about Ethiopia, but they had no heavy weapons, no air force, and hence no capacity to actually do anything at all to them — almost certainly the bluster was a part of unifying Somalia, although the Eritreans were encouraging them.) The Ethiopians did the dirty work with boots and tanks on the ground, but the Americans, operating out of their base in French-controlled Djibouti and from their navy (also probably from Kenya, but that was concealed because Kenya wouldn’t want to be seen as an official toady of American imperialism) helped with some of the slaughtering. On to Mogadishu! Bring in the despised and incompetent expatriate businessmen under the protection of hated foreign soldiers!
Where have we seen this before? Kabul, not so?
Indeed, what happened was not quite like what happened in Afghanistan; it was faster and more terrible. In spite of (seemingly) having no significant external support — conceivably the Islamic Courts movement might have been financially backed from the Arabian Peninsula, but they had no neighbouring states supporting them, no bases, no training camps — the Islamic Courts movement regrouped with startling speed. Within months they had a guerrilla movement up and running which was striking against anyone who supported the Western puppet government. It would appear that nearly everybody in Somalia supported this. It’s not clear how much resistance was being offered to the Ethiopians, who were harder to kill or intimidate than the puppet government’s ill-funded mercenaries — but it couldn’t have been fun for the Ethiopians knowing that they were occupying a hostile territory where they had no reliable supply lines, no popular support, and the constant possibility of attack.
An interesting point has been the virtual absence of suicide bombing. The Somalis are not into publicity stunts. They want their country back. Within a year, they had the countryside. Today, they control virtually every town in Somalia except Mogadishu and have strong forces even there. Meanwhile, the puppet government is expanding its unelected Parliament to ensure that they have at least a few hundred reliable supporters on the payroll. But corrupt, universally hated political frontmen are not a substitute for an army. Essentially, the only thing which keeps the puppet government alive is the fact that the Courts are worried about a renewed foreign invasion. As things stand, however, the Courts are running the whole show; the puppets are there on sufferance. It is essentially what the Iraqi resistance sought, but never quite achieved — a perfect guerrilla operation.
The only problem with the Islamic Courts is that they appear to be pursuing a quasi-Wahhabi agenda of extremely conservative and authoritarian Islam, not unlike the Taliban in some ways. One hears of rape victims being stoned — this could be mere Western propaganda, but it’s entirely possible; we know that such things happen in many Islamic countries. But then what can one expect? The Islamic Courts have been forced into an authoritarian stance by the American-backed invasion; if they were bad before, they are undoubtedly worse now. And now they are even more clearly the liberators of their nation, with undeniable authority even for those who disagree with their agendas. In short, the Americans have written Talibanism into Somalia, like a child spraying “al-Qaeda!” across the Horn of Africa.
As usual, the Americans are brilliant at making enemies. Sadly, however, most of their enemies are not as efficient or popular as the Somalian Islamic Courts. Sadly, because if they were, the Americans would soon be beaten back to their own horrible country, and would be forced to let the world go to hell in its own way.
Instead of with assistance from the Great Satan itself.