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Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Remembering Zhao Ziyang’s speech to the students 25 years after Tiananmen

Today, June 4th, is the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre, also known as the “June Fourth Incident”. Twenty-five years ago, on the orders of the Chinese government, the large protests in Beijing’s large central square were brutally suppressed by the People’s Liberation Army. Somewhere between 300 and 1000 Chinese lost their lives for standing up for the various demands they had of their country's government. The massacre is still covered up by the government in China, as the popular American cartoon The Simpsons lampoons below. 

Tiananmen is often remembered in the famous photo of “Tank Man”, one Chinese man standing in front of a row of Chinese T-59 tanks. A powerful picture, certainly, a testament to the resolve of the people who stood out until they could no longer. Tiananmen, however, is so much more than Tank Man. 

"Tank Man". In comedian Jon Stewart's book "America: A Citizen's Guide to Democracy Inaction", he suggests that the man in the picture, rather than being a brave protestor, was simply an OCD-sufferer that liked to stand in front of large objects.

On the morning of May 19th, 1989, General Secretary Zhao Ziyang appeared in Tiananmen Square. It was not yet 5 am-Beijing was still dark. A crowd of students on hunger strike surrounded him, and one handed him a bullhorn. 

Zhao spoke to the students, obviously tired and worried. His message was one of sympathy and sadness. He called for an end to the hunger strike and reassured the students that the government would not close the doors of dialogue. 

His speech in full is as follows, and can be watched here. 

"Students, we came too late. We are sorry. You talk about us, criticize us, it is all necessary. The reason that I came here is not to ask for your forgiveness. What I want to say is that you are all getting weak, it has been seven days since you went on a hunger strike, you can't continue like this. As time goes on, your body will be damaged beyond repair, it could be very life-threatening. Now the most important thing is to end this strike. I know, your hunger strike is to hope that the Party and the government will give you a satisfying answer. I feel that our communication is open. Some of these problems can only be solved through certain procedures. For example, you have mentioned about the nature of the incident, the question of responsibility; I feel that those problems can be resolved eventually, we can reach a mutual agreement in the end. However, you should also know that the situation is very complicated, it is going to be a long process. You can't continue the hunger strike longer than seven days, and still insist on receiving a satisfying answer before ending the hunger strike.
You are still young, we are old, you must live healthy, and see the day when China accomplishes the four modernizations. You are not like us, we are already old, so we do not matter. It is not easy for this nation and your parents to support your college studies. Now you are all about 20, and about to sacrifice your lives so easily, students, couldn't you think rationally? Now the situation is very serious, you all know, the Party and the nation is very antsy, our society is very worried. Besides, Beijing is the capital, the situation is getting worse and worse everywhere, this cannot continue. Students, you all have good will, and are for the good of our nation, but if this situation continues, loses control, it will have serious consequences elsewhere.
In conclusion, I have only one wish. If you stop hunger strike, the government won't close the door for dialogue, never! The questions that you have raised, we can continue to discuss. Although it is a little slow, but we are reaching some agreement on some problems. Today I just want to see the students, and express our feelings. I hope students could think about this issues calmly. This thing can not be sorted out clearly under illogical situations. You all have that strength, you are young after all. We were also young before, we protested, laid our bodies on the rail tracks, we never thought about what will happen in the future at that time. Finally, I beg the students once again, think about the future calmly. There are many things that can be solved. I hope that you will all end the hunger strike soon, thank you. 

His speech was received with applause, tears, and a few autographs, but Zhao was purged soon after the speech, and placed under house arrest. He died of natural causes in 2005. 

China is still an authoritarian state, a country where 1.3 billion are unable to practice some of the most basic freedoms that hundreds of millions take for granted in nearby Japan and the Republic of Korea.

Repressive as it is, the People's Republic of China has reformed when the government believes such actions are necessary. Deng Xiaoping, the country's paramount leader from 1978-1994, reduced the personality cult of Mao Zedong, admitted the horrors of the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution, and allowed his country to be opened to the world of private trade. After the Soviet Union fell, Chinese political scientists analyzed the fall of Communism in Eastern Europe extensively so as to prevent the same type of events from happening at home.

Perhaps it is again time for China to come to terms with a past sin. Any government that willingly fires upon its own people is taking a major risk, but admitting the problems of the past will allow the Chinese people and the Chinese government to move on in a more positive way. The country did not collapse after Deng admitted the atrocities committed under Mao.  Zhao Ziyang was labeled a traitor to the Chinese Communist Party by Deng Xiaoping, but Deng himself loosened the government's grip on the people, just as Zhao had expressed interest in.

Zhao claimed in his speech to the students that the government would never close the door for dialogue, and that he wished for the students to see their homeland accomplish the four modernizations. China has modernized on a grand scale since 1989, and today, Chinese students are traveling the world to bring entrepreneurship and innovation to their home country while promoting their advancing homeland. Many of the countries they travel to possess open media systems where the events of June 4th, 1989 are reflected upon every year. The Chinese government can't censor everything, and with the people becoming more worldly, it's going to get progressively harder for the government to retain their extensive methods of repression.

The government in Beijing has a chance to reconcile with its people over its past sins. Perhaps it should consider that avenue rather than continuing to embrace the thinking stressed by people like Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei, who claims that "In China, there are no dissidents, only lawbreakers." It's time for Beijing to re-evaluate that idea before the people decide to re-evaluate it first. 

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Five More Years for Zuma: The Aftermath of South Africa's 2014 General Election

This is an article I wrote for the Student Center for African Research and Resolutions, a student think tank in Washington, D.C. Check them out at for more student-produced news regarding African affairs. The article can also be accessed at SCARR's blog section. 

Originally published on May 22, 2014.

A few weeks ago, South Africans celebrated one of their most important national holidays: Freedom Day. Freedom Day is celebrated on April 27 every year and marks the anniversary of the elections in 1994 that brought Nelson Mandela to power after more than 40 years of brutal institutionalized racism, also known as apartheid.

On May 7, South Africans voted in the fifth General Election since apartheid was abolished, re-electing the African National Congress with 62 percent of the vote and giving President Jacob Zuma another five-year term.

South Africa is a parliamentary republic, headed by a president. President Zuma is a member of the African National Congress, the party Nelson Mandela ran under when he was overwhelmingly elected in 1994, signifying the official end of apartheid. South Africa has a bicameral legislature, with the upper house, the National Council of Provinces, representing provincial interests, while the lower house, the National Assembly, represents the people directly. The recent elections on the May 7 elected members to the National Assembly, who then elected the president, and also elected members to the National Council of Provinces.

Before the 2014 Election, 264 seats belonged to the ANC, 67 to the Democratic Alliance, 30 seats to the Congress of the People, and 18 to the Inkatha Freedom Party. The 21 remaining seats belonged to 9 different small parties.

Today, the National Assembly looks different. The ANC lost 15 seats to fall to 249 members in the assembly, while the DA grew to 89 seats. Julius Malema’s Economic Freedom Fighters picked up 25 seats and 6.35 percent of the vote. COPE and the IFP held a total of 13 seats combined, turning parliament into a mostly tri-party legislature.

The African National Congress has won every general election since the end of apartheid in the early 1990s, and still enjoys widespread popularity, as it is known as the party of Nelson Mandela. All three post-apartheid presidents have been ANC members.

Cracks may be appearing in the ANC’s foundation however. Today’s ANC is marred by corruption and a president whose list of scandals stretches, in the words of the Afrikaans stanza of South Africa’s national anthem, “uit die blou van onse hemel, [to] die diepte van ons see, oor ons ewige gebergtes, waar die kranse antwoord gee” which translates to “From the blue of our heavens, to the depths of our seas, over our everlasting mountains, where the cliffs give answer.”  President Zuma has been accused of rape, has multiple wives and an undetermined amount of children, and once made the absurd claim that taking a shower after unprotected sexual intercourse would reduce a person’s risk of contracting HIV. In response, artists in South Africa have depicted him in cartoons him with a shower faucet protruding from the back of his oddly shaped head. He has also recently been brought up on charges of corruption, and accused of using hundreds of millions of rands to fund a massive housing project for himself in Nkandla, in the eastern part of the country. Accordint to Gareth Newham of theInstitte for Security Studies for Africa, “Little symbolises the nature of our public sector corruption challenge better than the scandal of R215 million (about $20 million) of public money being diverted away from the public good to upgrade President Jacob Zuma's private homestead. It is therefore not surprising that research data supports the argument that corruption committed by politicians and government officials is driving negative public perceptions of corruption in South Africa.” The ANC has been passive at best with dealing with his antics, and one of South Africa’s largest newspapers, the Mail and Guardian, has told its readers to vote for otherparties. Polls showed that the ANC would likely still win the election with a majority, but some claimed they may fall below the 60 percent threshold they have easily tallied every year since 1994. This was not to be, but the ANC still sits high, retaining three of every five seats in the Assembly.

This is not all political paranoia. While South Africa is a functioning and fluid democracy with a large economy in a region of the world ravaged by dictatorship and poverty, it still struggles to catch up with other democracies. Unemployment is around 24 percent and substantially higher among younger South Africans. Crime is rampant, and South Africa has a rape epidemic that rivals India’s. Many South Africans are undereducated and victims to crippling poverty. The ANC has led South Africa forward to an extent, but the country has much more potential.

Behind the ANC sits the Democratic Alliance, or the DA. The DA is a broadly centrist, business friendly party that is led by Helen Zille, once the premier of the Western Cape province and former mayor of Cape Town. The DA has slowly but surely pulled together elements of the old National Party and a handful of smaller parties to create a small but growing opposition to the ANC. It’s not a very ideological party, instead campaigning on its more efficient record of governing and diverse base of support: While the ANC’s supporters are 96 percent black, the DA’s base is 50 percent white, 25 percent black, and 24 percent of mixed race, (a neutral term used in South Africa to denote mixed race people). Most white South Africans vote for the Democratic Alliance, and the party traces its roots to the old anti-apartheid Progressive Federal Party and the more liberal wing of the now-defunct National Party.

Their spokesperson is Mmusi Maimane, a candidate for premier of Gauteng, a populous province in the centre of South Africa where the cities of Soweto, Johannesburg and Pretoria are. The party is very popular in the Western Cape, but its influence nationally is not as broad. True, 2014’s election showed the DA grow its presence in every one of South Africa’s nine provinces, but that growth was mostly modest and the party still does not have the same mass appeal that the ANC does.

The DA’s growth has been consistent since 2000. In the 1999 elections, the Democratic Party, a predecessor to the DA, won 38 seats with 9.56 percent of the vote. In 2004, they won 50 seats, 12.37 percent of the popular vote. In 2009, they jumped up again to 67 seats and 16.67 percent of the vote. They took another 22 seats in this year’s election, increasing their total to 89.

The Congress of the People flopped in 2014’s election. Originally formed by former members of the ANC in 2008 as a reaction to the ANC's corruption and recall of former President Thabo Mbeki, they polled fairly well in 2009, gaining 7.42 percent of the vote and 30 seats, but only picked up 3 seats in this past election, likely due to their constant infighting and reactionary nature.

The Inkatha Freedom Party fared better than COPE but still fell in popularity, scraping out a meager 10 seats. They are led by Mangosuthu Buthelezi, and they have never been a nationally powerful party. The party peaked as an opposition party to the ANC in 1994, and has been declining ever since. In every election since 1994, the IFP has performed worse than the previous contest. They are only projected to win around 2.8 percent of the popular vote and only seem to be a regional force. Outside the province of Kwa-Zulu Natal, they are a non-entity.

It looks like Gavin Woods, a former IFP MP who published a scathing critique of the IFP’s platform, was right. In this document, Woods claimed that the IFP “has no discernible vision, mission or philosophical base, no clear national ambitions or direction, no articulated ideological basis and offers little in the way of current, vibrant original and relevant policies." Woods also warned the party that "it must treat Buthelezi as the leader of a political party and not the political party itself."

Last but not least is the Economic Freedom Fighters, led by Julius Malema, an expelled ANC member. Malema’s EFF is far to the left, even farther than the socialist ANC in some respects. While the EFF fared better than COPE and the IFP, Malema does not seem like someone who can make a political party widely successful. He has been convicted of hate speech twice and has corruption allegations around him, including tax evasion. He's frequently mocked in the mainstream media, and accused of being a radical. His political prowess is largely unproven, despite the fact that EFF managed to pull 6 percent of the electorate. Like COPE, it is a largely reactionary party which does not bode well for longevity.

The DA seems to govern relatively cleanly and is not quite the “white party” some claim it is. (As mentioned before, nearly half of its support comes from black and mixed race South Africans.) Of course the ANC deserves enormous credit for the work they did with F.W. De Klerk’s National Party in the early 1990s to make South Africa a multiracial democracy, but the ANC of today is only a shadow of the party that took their seats in 1994’s election. With a stronger DA, the ANC may be forced to answer to its numerous scandals, and government may become cleaner nationwide. In any case, South Africa has a lot of work to do, and a healthy challenge to the status quo may help them on their way. 

Looking to Mali may not solve Nigeria's Problems

This is an article I wrote for the Student Center for African Research and Resolutions, a student think tank in Washington, D.C. Check them out at for more student-produced news regarding African affairs. It can also be accessed at SCARR's blog section.Originally published on May 25, 2014.

Internal instability has rocked the two West African nations of Mali and Nigeria in recent years. Mali seems to be finding its way out of the tempest, while Nigeria still struggles to contain an insurgency. Are Mali’s solutions applicable to Nigeria? 

Mali: Dictatorship, democracy, and a questionable future
In March of 1991, Malian students gathered in the streets to demonstrate against their autocratic government. They were brutally massacred by Malian military forces loyal to President Moussa Traoré. This enraged Malians nationwide, and demonstrations only grew. As the demonstrations grew, military units deployed refused to fire on the protesters, effectively shifting a large amount of influence to the pro-democracy movement.  The uprising hit its climax on March 26, 1991. Lieutenant Colonel Amadou Toumani Toure addressed the people of Mali, announcing his capture of the dictator Traore and the end of the one-party state. Free, fair elections were held the next year, and between 1992 and 2012, Mali was a stable and democratic country. While Mali is still a poor and underdeveloped state, their government stood out as a model for a continent ravaged by corruption, violence, and instability for those twenty years of stable government.

Unfortunately, the stability was short-lived. In January of 2012, ethnic Tuaregs rebelled against the government. The Malian government was unable to effectively contain the armed rebellion and a military coup d’etat followed two months after the conflict began.  The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) immediately isolated Mali, and the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad declared independence, creating the state of Azawad, drastically reducing Mali’s size.  Independence quickly gave way to infighting between Islamists who wanted an Islamic Republic and ethnic Tuaregs in this new state. 

The military government in Bamako quickly appealed to France for military assistance, to which Paris obliged. French soldiers rolled in, joined up with forces loyal to Bamako, and the coalition of forces quickly defeated the northern insurgency. An interim government was set up in an attempt to bring stability, and despite its abrupt resignation after only six months in power, Mali seems to be moving back towards democracy.

Mali was part of French West Africa until 1960, when it gained independence. The two countries have a tenseness to their relationship as the CIA has reported in the past, but it’s clear France played an indispensable role in ending the recent conflict. Mali’s transitional government seems to be slowly but surely returning to the roots of the democracy that preceded it, despite the abrupt resignation of MPs in April. If Mali succeeds in re-establishing a stable government, the country will likely see a strengthening of relations with France and a growth in their economy. However, problems still loom for Mali’s internal stability. 

Tuaregs in Mali are the people who live in the northern part of the country who led the initial uprising against Mali’s government in 2012 to establish their own homeland of Azawad. This is not the first Tuareg rebellion against the Malian government, and it may not be the last. They are a nomadic Berber people, and they live in the neighboring countries of Algeria and Libya as well as in Mali. Mali’s new government must find a way to reconcile with these people while respecting the sovereignty of the country after it re-establishes democratic rule. They have had fleeting support from Islamist groups in the past, but it pales in comparison to the French support of Bamako. They are not unlike the Kurds in the Middle East in that they are a separate people who have no formally defined homeland. The French involvement may have provided a temporary fix, but in order to keep Northern Mali from falling into anarchy again, the Malian government must work to incorporate Tuaregs into government on a greater level. Tuaregs are poor and nomadic, so they do not have the same resources as Nigeria’s internal factions. 

Nigeria: Insurgency and Uncertainty

In 1999, the Nigerian government established a new constitution, calling for secular law. This did not sit well with many of Nigeria’s northern provinces, which are dominated by Muslims. In response, many of Nigeria’s northern states decided to govern themselves via sharia law. Islamic fundamentalism has been a violent thorn in Nigeria’s side for years. Boko Haram’s atrocities have become internationally criticized. The Nigerian Army has been ineffective in dealing with this insurgency and has even been accused of abuses of its own. 

Nigeria, unlike Mali, is not a religiously homogeneous society. A slight Muslim majority populates most of the northern provinces and it’s been at odds with the mostly Christian south for years. As of 2008, Islamic Sharia law had at least some legal weight in around half of the country, and violence has been a recurring problem between Christians and Muslims for years. The Yelwa Massacre killed hundreds in 2004, followed by similarly bloody riots in 2008 and again in 2010 in Jos. In recent years, Boko Haram, the fundamentalist and terrorist group responsible for the kidnapping of dozens of young girls recently has been responsible for widespread violence in northern Nigeria. The Nigerian Army has not been able to contain them. 

Nigeria has more than ten times Mali’s population and a much larger economy due to vast oil reserves-even larger than that of South Africa. The substantially larger population makes Nigeria’s problems much more difficult to solve. Nigeria, also unlike Mali, has been unable to establish peace or successfully appeal to the international community for help. While Nigeria enjoys fairly strong ties with the United States and United Kingdom because of oil, the assistance coming from the US to combat Boko Haram is limited, despite Nigerians being considerably pro-American

Nigeria’s problems are based on religion rather than ethnicity. As mentioned before, religious rivalries are not a problem in Mali as almost 90 percent of the country is Muslim. Islamism and sharia law are not practical in a country where nearly 40 percent of the population is Christian. In order to combat Islamists, Nigeria’s government has to closely examine what enables groups like Boko Haram to incite the violence they do. The country has enormous potential as an oil-rich nation, but the government’s corruption and ineffective work towards moving Nigeria forward, coupled with religious rivalries, likely contributes to Nigerians being drawn to groups like Boko Haram. The people of Mali, by contrast, enjoyed 20 years of stable, democratic government and little religious tension before 2012, and it looks like the French intervention has contributed substantially to the restoration of stability. Nigeria has made some strides, but does not have any type of stability like Mali did to look back on. Nigeria must first isolate the violent groups from their resources, and then seek to drive ordinary people towards a productive alternative. The Nigerian government needs serious reform as well. Its inefficacy is a large contributor to the insurgency. Governmental stability is the first step: confidence in national infrastructure will work to drive people into contributing for their country, not a violent group that stirs up religious tension and violence. Nigeria has got a long road ahead, and it’s not an easy transition. 

A few steps can be taken to solve these problems: first, establishing formal, extensive dialogue between Christian and Muslim Nigerians. If the two different groups are able to speak to each other in an effort to greater understand each others’ concerns, it increases the chances that the two groups will be more united as Nigerians, rather than Christians and Muslims, and if the people are willing to fight back, Boko Haram will be weakened. Christians and Muslims must think in terms of nationality to bring their country forward.  Unity is extremely important in this country with deep divisions present. If the Nigerian government can mobilize ordinary citizens to work to defend their fatherland from the strife of armed conflict, they stand a better chance of putting out the fire. This can be done through public diplomacy and government-sponsored dialogues and debates in the media. 

As Boko Haram is a terrorist group rather than a foreign army looking to create a separate, sovereign state as in Mali, it can’t be combated directly in conventional warfare. Instead, the Nigerian government must figure out who finances them, and how they are able to influence Nigerians and incite them to violence. Through combat, negotiations, or both, Nigerians must press hard for a complete end to their funding and an effort to drive impressionable citizens away from violence and terrorism. If Nigeria can direct Boko Haram’s funding towards the people in regions affected by violence and invest in infrastructure, as with public diplomacy, Nigeria’s government can mount a campaign to potentially drive those Nigerians drawn to Boko Haram and those who may still be able to escape their ranks. 

Naturally, Nigerians want stability, peace, and prosperity. And with Nigeria’s vast oil reserves, the government of Nigeria has the potential to do extremely good things for ordinary Nigerian people. Many Nigerians are impoverished, and without Boko Haram causing trouble, the Nigerian government can focus on bettering the lives of their people. The economy must be diversified, but in the short term, oil money can finance investment in other sectors of employment and make the Nigerian economy built for long-term If the government focuses on improving regions stricken by violence, it could give stability to these regions and cool animosity. There is a lot of corruption in the government, however, which will have to be addressed before a serious final campaign against the insurgency can be mounted.