Wearying of the Zumacrats

“People are saying it may be time throw South Africa under the bus”. That’s what I recently heard from a household name in Washington Africa policy circles, closely associated with the African Growth and Opportunity Act.

The context was a conversation about AGOA, the centrepiece of America’s official engagement with the Africa Rising narrative. Specifically we were ruminating on whether and under what conditions SA would continue to enjoy AGOA’s benefits when it is renewed, as it must be by September.

What my interlocutor was picking up was not a tactical talking point. It was not a line designed to pressure Kevin Lovell and the SA Poultry Association into letting American Big Chicken violate his industry with surplus drumsticks. It expressed a larger and more important frustration.

The Zumacrats may treat this as a feather in their caps, but Washington, on a bipartisan basis (and to the extent it can be bothered), is growing tired of them, their sanctimony, their statism, their graft, their time-warped loyalty to the discredited ghosts of Bandung, their BRIC fixation, their pandering to autocrats and other violators of principles for which thousands of South Africans died, their ill-concealed resentment of the West; in sum, what is perceived as their utter lack of Mandela-liness. Continue reading “Wearying of the Zumacrats”


An Open Letter to Steve Hayes

Steve Hayes, CEO of the US Corporate Council on Africa, gets alarmist. Wearing my Brand South Africa hat, I respond:

Dear Steve,

If nothing else, it takes courage to go public with a piece like your latest column on the US News and World Report website. One has to assume that dues-paying members of the Corporate Council on Africa might prefer its CEO to abstain from sounding shrill alarums about the continent’s most advanced and diversified economy particularly when that economy’s president is due in Washington in a few weeks time.

You lament what you see as South Africa turning away from the US and Western Europe and towards its partners — China, India, Brazil and Russia — in the BRICS grouping of major emerging markets. Could you blame us if the analysis in your article accurately reflects thinking in America’s boardrooms? Happily, I don’t for a moment believe it does. Nor, I would argue, is it correct to see the BRICS partnership as necessarily hostile to US or European interests. That smacks of Manichean oldthink.

South Africa — and on this you are right — is presently in a difficult place. But the one place we are not is in denial. The woes you list we fully acknowledge. Have you read the diagnostic on which our National Development Plan based? Were you listening when the ANC embraced Goldman Sachs’ “Two Decades of Freedom” evaluation not just for the laudatory sections but in its warts and all totality? Have you been keeping current with everything our government has been saying, especially since the election? You do not have to listen that closely to hear genuine urgency in the voices of our leaders. The ratings agencies are not telling us anything we don’t know or that we aren’t addressing. Continue reading “An Open Letter to Steve Hayes”

Dear Professor Dershowitz

I caught you on CNN the other night doing your talking head thing on the trial of Oscar Pistorius, the South African Olympian who runs on carbon fiber blades in place of amputated lower legs, for the murder of his girlfriend, the model Reeva Steenkamp.

Your Wikipedia entry reminds us why Piers Morgan had you on his show. You are a media star. In 1967, you became Harvard’s youngest ever full professor of law. You held the Felix Frankfurter professorship for 20 years until your retirement in 2013. You have successfully represented a stellar cast of celebrity defendants, including two, O.J. Simpson and Claus von Bulow, charged like Pistorius with killing women they had once supposedly loved.

South Africa, you told Mr Morgan and his audience with what seemed invincible certainty, was a “failed country”. Now I recognize the on-air rules of the game for professional talking heads include expressing yourselves in ways that might be considered unprofessional in a Harvard lecture hall. That said, your comment about South Africa would have been outlandish in any setting. In spite of his English tabloid roots, even Mr Morgan was taken aback.

Happily, Kelly Phelps, a live resident of the “failed country”, was on hand to help straighten you out. “Failed countries” do not generally boast institutions of the calibre of the University of Cape Town where Ms. Phelps teaches law. Nor do they retain talent such as hers. Her resume is worth a read. Her rebuttal that South Africa is “fundamentally sound” should command your respect. Continue reading “Dear Professor Dershowitz”

Show them the money

Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Sir Richard Branson, former US Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker and several dozen other current or soon to be emeriti last week asked the government of Bangladesh to stop bullying microcredit pioneer Muhammad Yunus and his Grameen Bank. The New York Times did not consider this newsworthy.

It did, however, join the parade of influential publications – Forbes, the Atlantic, Fast Company, Slate, Harvard Business Review and the Washington Post – to publish glowing pieces about Columbia University economist Paul Niehaus and his philanthropic start-up, GiveDirectly (www.givedirectly.com)

Move over, Grameen. With Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes on its board and a $2.4 million Global Impact Award from Google, GiveDirectly, looks like becoming the next big thing in development circles. Continue reading “Show them the money”

Bezos and the Post

My son wants to follow his father’s and grandfather’s footsteps into newspapering. Until last week, I feared he might just as gainfully launch a buggy whip business. Then Amazon founder Jeff Bezosdecided to spend some pocket change, $250 million of his estimated $25 billion net worth, to become a press baron.

Washington Post Co. chairman Donald Graham, son of the legendary Kay Graham, grandson of Eugene Meyer who bought the Post in a bankruptcy sale in 1933, and uncle of the present publisher, Katharine Weymouth, has always tried to do the right thing.  He has never let vanity get in his way.

He served in Viet Nam when he could have avoided the draft. He became a beat-trudging cop to get to know his readers and their city at street level. And when it became clear the family could not take the business from the analogue to the digital age, he went looking for someone who could. Continue reading “Bezos and the Post”

Africa’s Lincoln

Of Nelson Mandela’s many chroniclers few are more astute than the journalist John Carlin who covered South Africa’s democratic transition for the London Independent, then wrote Playing the Enemy which became the film Invictus. “Mandela”, he wrote in the Cairo Review in 2011, “is Africa’s Lincoln”.

He was referring to the Great Emancipator, Abraham Lincoln, America’s 16th president, thanks to whom the swath of territory between Canada and the Rio Grande is today occupied by one United States rather than a constellation of disunited ones, and Barak Obama is its president.

“Mandela, like Lincoln, achieved the historically rare feat of uniting a fiercely divided country,” Carlin wrote. “ The feat is rare because what ordinary politicians have always done is seek power by highlighting difference and fueling antagonism. Mandela sought it by appealing to people’s common humanity.” So did Lincoln. Continue reading “Africa’s Lincoln”

A stake through the heart of the Alien Tort Statute

In 1821, the captain of a US warship off West Africa ordered his crew to seize a schooner, La Jeune Eugenie, for transgressing Congress’ ban on the international transport of slaves.

The French owners demanded their boat back protesting they were not subject to American law. US Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story, an ardent foe of slavery, ruled against them, but not without misgivings. What gave him pause was the idea of the US assuming the role of global policeman.

“No nation has ever yet pretended to be the custos morum (guardian of the morals) of the whole world,” he wrote. Continue reading “A stake through the heart of the Alien Tort Statute”