Foreign Policy Blogs

A Barrage of Stories

boy with map


Very early tomorrow morning I head to South Africa for my first trip there in nearly a year. I’ll be there for three weeks and will be upping my frequency and volume of posting. But in the meantime, here is a deluge of stories that have been piling up in my tabs:

At The Atlantic Howard French makes a really good point: if the United States is really committed to democracy in its (to be fair, increasingly engaged) Africa policy, why does it so often partner with autocratic leaders?

It is going to be one crazy second half of the year in South African politics. This theme will be at the heart of my writing for the next three weeks, but let’s just say that President Jacob Zuma’s chances of emerging from the ANC’s Mangaung conference unscathed seem to be declining by the day. I’m not ready to say that the country will see a repeat of the 2007 Polokwane conference that saw Thabo Mbeki ousted from the ANC presidency, an act that led to Mbeki’s resignation as head of state, but the circumstances seem to be conspiring to create another rather interesting moment in the history of the ANC and South Africa.

The competition for continental supremacy between Nigeria and South Africa is a bit of a reductionist fiction–Africa is hardly beset by a bi-polar Cold War competition–but it is true that the two countries’ conceptions of themselves tend to clash. Nigeria has a massive advantage in population. Resources are a bit of a wash–Nigeria produces oil, which would seem to give it an advantage, except that South Africa has a diverse array of  minerals and agriculture–and South Africa is dominant economically, culturally, politically, and militarily. And whatever critiques one might levy against South Africa, it is a bastion of stability and practically represents the platonic ideal of democracy when compared with Nigeria. Still, as Africa’s prominence grows, so too will the sense of competition between these two regional giants.

Important constituencies in South Africa are lining up against nationalization of the mining and other sectors. The Northern Cape ANC wants to emphasize land reform and a report from the national leadership of the ANC calls for higher taxes on the mines. Both reject nationalization, which is a frontal attack on the calls from Julius Malema and some factions in the ANC Youth League for nationalization.

Foreign Policy has produced its 2012 Failed States issue, and Africa continues to be overrepresented on the wrong side of the ledger. Of the bottom twenty states on the 2012 Index, fifteen are from Africa, including the bottom five.

On the positive side, a special report from Global Post indicates that we might be reaching a turning point on combating HIV/AIDS globally and especially in sub-Saharan Africa.

Global Post also has a report on the ways in which Africa’s entrepreneurs are fueling the continent’s growth.

Just a friendly reminder: Mugabe’s got to go. But the devil is in the details–how?

COSATU wants to cut down on the presence of “foreign whites” at the country’s universities. This strikes me as a demogogic solution in search of a problem inasmuch as there is little evidence that qualified students are not getting into universities because those slots are going to foreigners. There are more than a few universities in South Africa that would welcome more bodies on campus, foreign or domestic.

Kenya’s proximity to the failed state that is Somalia and especially with the encroachments of al Shabaab’s militants means that the country runs the risk of becoming embroiled in a “forever war.” This is especially worrisome in light of the country’s own internal divisions that have at best been papered over.

It is hard not to be pleased to see Charles Taylor, Liberia’s former warlord and Big Man, convicted and sentenced for his crimes in Sierra Leone. But as John Campbell has rightly pointed out, the trial and its outcome was not without its problems and its potentially problematic ramifications going forward.

A few weeks back the New York Times had a story on Laamb, traditional (but increasingly lucrative) wrestling in Senegal.

In case you missed it, F. W. De Klerk gave a non-apology apology interview with CNN. There were times when I wanted to bang my head repeatedly against my desk. de Klerk was a pivotal figure in South Africa’s transition because he saw the inevitable changes that his predecessor P. W. Botha refused to recognize. But de Klerk was no hero. The idea that Nelson Mandela had to share the Nobel Peace Prize with de Klerk–even while de Klerk’s government was engaging in myriad Third Force and Dirty Tricks campaigns–is simply galling.

In the New York Times, Ian Bremmer argues that Africa stands at a vital pivot point that should allow its leaders finally to have real options in operating in a global economy.

Finally, if you haven’t bookmarked Awesome Tapes From Africa, just do it now.




Derek Catsam

Derek Catsam is a Professor of history and Kathlyn Cosper Dunagan Professor in the Humanities at the University of Texas of the Permian Basin. He is also Senior Research Associate at Rhodes University. Derek writes about race and politics in the United States and Africa, sports, and terrorism. He is currently working on books on bus boycotts in the United States and South Africa in the 1940s and 1950s and on the 1981 South African Springbok rugby team's tour to the US. He is the author of three books, dozens of scholarly articles and reviews, and has published widely on current affairs in African, American, and European publications. He has lived, worked, and travelled extensively throughout southern Africa. He writes about politics, sports, travel, pop culture, and just about anything else that comes to mind.

Areas of Focus:
Africa; Zimbabwe; South Africa; Apartheid