Angola’s Constitution is under review: but a great deal has been left undone

Albano Augustinho TrocoAlbano Augustinho Troco is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow under the SA/UK Bilateral Chair in Political Theory. He holds a PhD in Political Studies from the University of the Witwatersrand. His research interests encompass issues on electoral politics, democratization and autocratization studies, secessionist conflicts and international relations.


President of Angola Joao Lourenco in Berlin, Germany in 2018. The powers of the president remain intact. Photo by Abdulhamid Hosbas/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Angola’s parliament recently approved a bill to review the country’s constitution 11 years after its promulgation.

President João Lourenço used his constitutional prerogative to initiate a review process by sending a proposal for revision to parliament in early March. His justification was that the supreme law of the land needed to be adapted to the current challenges facing the country.

These included the COVID-19 pandemic, the need to clarify some issues in the Constitution and the need to prevent some of the excesses from the presidency of José Eduardo dos Santos, his predecessor.

The revision introduces notable changes to the constitution. These include the clarification of the institutional relationship between parliament and the executive branch when it comes to political oversight. The 2010 Constitution was not clear on this.

Other key change is the institutionalisation of the independence of the Angolan Central Bank. The amendments would turn the bank into an administratively independent entity with regulatory powers separated from the president and the administration. It also includes involving parliament in the process of appointing the governor.

Under the current constitution, the president appoints (and can dismiss) the governor. The Central Bank is also administratively part of government and receives orders from the president in discharging its responsibilities.

Another change involves extending voting rights to Angolans abroad.

The changes also seek to resolve an ongoing bone of contention – how local government officials are selected. At present, the party that wins the general elections gets to appoint all the senior executive officials at national and sub-national levels (provincial, municipal and commune/district).

There have been efforts to change this in recent years. But the process has been delayed mainly by conflicting views between the governing People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), and opposition parties. The MPLA views the process – referred to locally as gradualism – in geographical terms. It envisages that local elections should start in selected municipalities and spread gradually to all municipalities. Opposition parties oppose this because it means that the ruling party will continue to appoint officials at all levels of governance for many years to come.

They argue that local elections should be implemented in all the 164 municipalities simultaneously. But that the transfer of responsibilities from the central government to local entities would take place as they get ready to take them up.

By and large, I think the changes being proposed are good. But I am of the view that the Angolan political elite lost an extraordinary opportunity to improve significantly the country’s constitution. The Constitutional Revision Bill fails to address crucial and divisive political issues effectively.

The most contentious of these is the extensive powers of the president, the method for his election as well as the fact that it leaves intact the way that local government is formed.

The extensive powers of the president

Contemporary constitutionalism emphasises the doctrine of the separation of powers. This means that the three arms of the state (executive, legislative, and judicial) are kept separate, while having certain powers to check and balance the powers of the other branches so that no arm of the state dominates.

Angola’s current political arrangement – as prescribed by the constitution – doesn’t match up to this. A raft of these flaws aren’t addressed in the amendments.

The Angolan constitution ascribes a wide range of executive powers to the president. It gives the position preeminence over the legislative and judicial arms of the state.

For instance, as the head of state, the president is considered to be the custodian of all executive power. Technically, there is no government but the president, who holds all executive powers. Ministers serve at his pleasure, assisting him in fulfilling his executive duties.

He can pass laws by decree, which means that he can bypass parliament in making them.

Additionally, the constitutional revision bill reaffirms a 2013 ruling by the Constitutional Court, which effectively prevents parliament from summoning ministers or other members of the administration without the president’s consent.

This results in a system with minimal or meaningless executive accountability to parliament.

The president has the prerogative to appoint the presiding and the deputy presiding judges of all the highest courts. He also appoints (and can dismiss) the Attorney General, the deputy Attorney General, the prosecutors of the Supreme Military Court, and members of the highest body of the judiciary.

Despite these extensive powers, Angolans don’t elect the president directly. This function is ultimately limited to the vagaries of party politics.

This is just one major flaw in Angola’s electoral system which, as currently constructed, undermines voters’ ability to elect political representatives effectively.

Firstly, it fuses executive and legislative elections, preventing voters from splitting their votes for the presidency and parliament. Secondly, it shields the top executive officer – the president – from the direct judgement of the voters.

Lastly, it bars independent candidates from standing for political office unless they are included in a party list that has been cleared to run in the elections.

Efforts to fix at least one element of what’s wrong – the ability for Angolans to vote for their representatives at all levels of government – have run into the ground. Opposition parties, which hold roughly 38% (70 out of 220) seats in parliament, want to see elections held in all 164 municipalities simultaneously. They also want power and responsibilities to be progressively delegated from the central government. This would include taxation, policing and infrastructure spending.

The government, however, believes that not every municipality is ready to take up these and other responsibilities.

The repeal under the bill on this issue doesn’t solve the imbroglio.

A shrewd political manoeuvre

The president has rejected previous calls for constitutional revision from opposition parties and civil society. His announcement of a review, in early March, caught the country by surprise.

From this perspective, the president’s decision can be seen as a shrewd political manoeuvre by getting changes within timelines that best suit him.

The first factor here is that the ruling MPLA currently has the necessary majority to approve any constitutional review alone. But that might not be the case after the general elections scheduled for 2022 when most expect the ruling party to lose its qualified majority, thereby losing its ability to approve the constitution alone.

The second factor is that Angolans will have to wait for at least five years – a condition set out under the constitution – until any further reviews of the constitution can be initiated.

This means even further delays in Angolans being able to craft a constitution capable of uniting them around a common project of society.

This article was first published by The Conversation on August 11, 2021.

Angola’s peculiar electoral system needs reforms. How it could be done

Albano Augustinho TrocoAlbano Augustinho Troco is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow under the SA/UK Bilateral Chair in Political Theory. He holds a PhD in Political Studies from the University of the Witwatersrand. His research interests encompass issues on electoral politics, democratization and autocratization studies, secessionist conflicts and international relations.



Angola has a unique electoral system. Its main peculiarity is that it involves voters electing the president, deputy president and members of parliament simultaneously with a single mark on a single ballot paper.

This has a negative impact on the quality of the country’s representative democracy. It prevents voters from voting differently for the president and members of parliament. And it reduces the ability of voters to hold elected representatives to account besides keeping them in office, or voting them out every five years.

Hence, the need for reform.

An alternative electoral system would have the following components. It should provide for the direct election of the president. And it should allow for the representation of Angolan communities abroad. In addition, seats in the legislature should be allocated through direct election of representatives from constituencies combined with compensatory seats for political parties in proportion to their overall outcome.

How does the system work?

Angola uses a closed-list proportional representation electoral system. Voters cast ballots for lists of candidates drawn up by political parties. Parties are then allocated seats in the legislature in proportion to the share of votes that they receive at the polls.

This electoral system is used widely elsewhere. Examples include South Africa and Portugal.

The specific variant used in Angola is outlined in the country’s current constitution. It was approved in 2010 to replace the interim constitution, which had been in effect since 1992.

The constitution states that the individual occupying the top position on the list of the political party or coalition of parties that receives the majority vote is appointed president. The individual next on the same list becomes the deputy president.

The 220-member National Assembly is elected on a two-level constituency: 130 candidates from a single national constituency and 90 candidates from 18 provincial constituencies (five per province). The national assembly is unicameral.

Advantages and weaknesses

There are several advantages to the closed-list proportional representation system.

One is its simplicity. The design of ballot papers allows even illiterate voters to make effective choices. It is also fair in that political parties get seats according to the proportion of votes that they receive at the polls.

It also promotes inclusiveness. It ensures that political, gender, ethnic and other minorities are not excluded from the legislature.

But, as a political scientist and a student of Angolan politics, I am of the view that the current system undermines voters’ ability to elect political representatives effectively.

Firstly, fusing executive and legislative elections prevents voters from splitting their votes for the presidency and parliament. This forces them to choose a president and a deputy president from the party with the majority in the national assembly.

Secondly, the electoral system prevents voters from electing the president directly. Yet Angola has a presidential system of government with an all-powerful presidency that exercises executive powers without effective checks and balances.

Here Angola deviates from the norm. In countries that adopt presidential systems of government, the executive does not get its legitimacy from the legislature. That is why it is elected directly by the voters.

Thirdly, voters cast ballots for party lists rather than individual candidates. This arrangement privileges political parties rather than individuals in the political process. This means that, once elected, representatives are not personally accountable to the electorate because they aren’t directly linked to any territorial constituency. Rather they are beholden to party leaders who hold the power to compile the party list.

This results in a massive accountability deficit in the political system.

In addition, the use of party lists bars independent candidates from standing for political office unless they are included in a party list that has been cleared to run in the elections. But giving effect to this is extremely difficult. Realpolitik prevents parties from choosing independent candidates at the expense of party members in good standing.

There is also the practical use of the two-level constituency – provincial and national – instead of a single national constituency.

The adoption of the 18 provincial constituencies, which goes back to 1992, is premised on the idea that all provinces need to be represented at the national assembly. But this does not make sense, as Angola is a unitary state, with a unicameral parliament.

Among Lusophone countries, which inherited this system from Portugal, Angola is the only country that introduced the national and provincial level constituency system.

There are no provincial legislatures and no functional or formal distinction between parliamentarians elected at the provincial level and those elected at the national level. They all represent the whole nation, and should all be be elected from a single national constituency.

An alternative system

The broad literature on electoral systems acknowledges that there is no single best electoral system.

There are several types of electoral systems and each has advantages as well as disadvantages.

A system that best serves democracy in one country might not work in another country. Hence, the best electoral system for a country must be informed by its particular history, social cleavages and political realities.

In the case of Angola, this means breaking with the past to end the persistence of adverse practices. These include the unchecked executive power, concentration of state resources in the hands of a small politically connected elite, widespread corruption, a culture of impunity in which those in authority get away without being punished, and a government that is not responsive to the needs of the population.

In my view, the best way to address these issues is reforming the current system. This would require a return to the direct election of the president by voters and the reinstatement of a constituency for the representation of Angolan communities abroad. This was stipulated in the Constitutional Law of the Republic of Angola, an interim document revoked in 2010.

In addition, the 18 provincial-level constituencies should be scrapped. There is no practical reason for their existence. A constituency element should be added to ensure the direct election of deputies and compensatory seats introduced for the representation of political parties in proportion to their share of the votes.

The resulting mixed electoral system would promote accountability through the direct election of representatives from constituencies. It would also ensure the proportional representation of political parties.


This article was first published by The Conversation on July 5, 2021.

#EndSARS Protests: Lekki Toll Gate Killing and the Reparative Work of Mourning

Stephen Temitope DavidStephen Temitope David is a postdoctoral fellow in the Chair for Historical Trauma and Transformation at Stellenbosch University. He holds a PhD in Literature from Stellenbosch University and a master’s degree in African Literature from the University of Ibadan. His research takes the Nigeria-Biafra Civil war and its afterlife as a point of departure in examining the links that exist between nostalgia and political violence in African countries with emotionally charged histories. He is also interested in the marginal voices that come to the fore when grand narratives of violence are unsettled by paying attention to the ways in which axes of identity such as gender, class, sexuality, race and dis/ability intersect to generate distinct experiences of violence and trauma.


The #EndSARS protests started as a citizen-led online movement before it spilled onto the streets of Nigerian cities, called attention to the murderous activities of a special unit in the police called Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS). Due to its strategic position as the nation’s commercial hub, Lagos was at the centre of things as the protests grew in intensity. As pockets of leaderless protests which were mostly organised on Twitter began to spring up in parts of Lagos, protesters started converging around the Lekki Toll Gate, which became almost like Egypt’s Tahir Square. At the toll gate, which serves as a portal to Lekki, a gentrified part of Lagos, protesters sang protest songs, listened to stories of brutal, and sometimes deathly encounters with the Nigerian state, and collectively mourned those who had been consumed by the state’s necropolitical exercise of power (See Mbembe’s Necropolitics). Eventually, the toll gate assumed symbolic importance as the heart of the protests; a massive stage was set up where several activists came to address protesters, and musical artists also staged short performances for those present. The atmosphere was generally peaceful and celebrative. Events at the toll gate were livestreamed on social media platforms as well as by mainstream media houses. A community of care where the most vulnerable were catered for started budding among those at the toll gate. The highlight of events at the toll gate was a candle light vigil where pictures of those who died in the hands of the police were displayed and their names collectively chanted – to invoke their presence and weave their memory into the realm of cultural memory where worthy ancestors are granted eternal board. Given that events at the vigil were beamed live across the world, and against the backdrop of the George Floyd protests in the United States, it is possible to argue that the vigil courted a form of transnational mourning space for those murdered.

On the 20th of October 2020, the army was deployed to the toll plaza in a bid to disperse protesters who had positioned the place as the nerve centre of the protests. In the end, many protesters were gunned down by the army. The killings not only make legible the human cost of unbridled impunity and injustice as well as the way Nigerians encounter the state as a destructive force that seeks to cadere its citizens, to “fall its citizens” (Adebanwi and Obadare 2010); it also called attention to the “imposed code of silence” (Ejiogu 2012) with which the government governs public remembrance. Hence, in a memorial landscape that is as arid as the Sahara, converting a toll plaza at the heart of Lagos state into a memorial to those killed by the state and its agents becomes a radical, ‘Antigonean’ form of politics (See Sophocle’s Antigone). It is this ritual of mourning and remembrance and the kind of radical memory work it does that this piece seeks to think through. Given Nigeria’s poor culture of public mourning and memorialization, especially when it concerns victims of state violence, it is important to pay closer attention to the citizen driven form of memorialization performed at the Lekki Toll Gate.

Nigeria’s fraught history of violence, of coups, countercoups, murderous ethnoreligious clashes, a civil war and daily killings by terrorists has created a nation-space haunted by teeming restless ghosts. These ghosts whose voices the country has mostly refused an audience have a membership that goes as far back as the colonial genocidal pacifications carried out in places like the Benin Kingdom and Opobo. Although they are denied narrative presence within the country’s historiographic landscape in the spirit of ‘moving on’, these spectral presences have been granted some narrative agency within Nigeria’s creative landscape; from literary narratives like Chris Abani’s Song for Night (2007), Ben Okri’s The Famished Road (1991) to Eedris Abdulkareem’s angst-laden song, “Jaga Jaga Reloaded” (2021), these ghosts have persistently staged an insurgent demand that they be listened to.  Thus, during the #EndSars protests when the toll plaza was positioned as a portal where the past could bleed into the present, these spectres stormed out to claim the narrative space they were offered. Thus, the toll gate was transformed into a space where restless ghosts of the past could be listened to, and forcefully reinserted into the nation’s memory landscape. This effectively transformed a thoroughly capitalist zone of operation into a memorial to those ungrieved/ungrievable lives who were considered disposable. In a sense, unbridled capitalism is confronted with the violence it wants us to forget but which haunts it perpetually.  It also served as an opportunity for being with spectres that continue to haunt the postcolony but whose stories remain silenced, their names unspoken and the grief of their loss locked in dark, private chambers. By opening a portal to these ghosts whose presence bear witness to the incorrigibly violent nature of the state, the protesters had radically ruptured the government-imposed sense of progressive history and time, and the desire to claim a more ethical use of force than their military predecessors. Thus, in asserting the grievability of these ghosts their belonging is reclaimed (See Butler’s Frames of War), and an affective community where their status as “having been” is acknowledged (See Ruin 2018).

Shari Epel (2020) calls attention to the reparative value of such rituals of mourning in a chapter titled “How do We Talk of Bhalagwe?” Writing about the exhumations and reburials that her organisation arranged for victims of the Gukuranhundi massacres, she observes that as the bones of the dead were being exhumed, their memory began to emerge from the archive of silence; relatives who had remained silent about their loss suddenly felt the need to retrieve pictures of the departed from dark spaces where they had kept them. The process also created an avenue for remembering, talking, celebrating and reinserting the dead into cultural memory as vibrant members of the community. In a sense, by being with, and listening to the dead whose bones were being exhumed and re-membered, both the living and the dead found some form of repair. This is also true for what happened at the Lekki Toll Gate; although the place was not a place of burial in a literal sense, and there were no exhumations there, the candle light vigil not only transformed the site into a memorial to those who had died as a result of state violence, it also created a space where those ghostly presences could be summoned through ritual acts such a collective incantatory invocation of their names whilst displaying their pictures on large screens, which reparatively reinserted them into memory. In this sense, memory of the dead becomes a potent tool for mobilization; politics is then positioned as a realm comprising the living and the dead.

As shells of the live rounds used to mow down Lekki protesters were being harvested as proof of the wanton killings that occurred there, frantic moves geared towards reopening the toll gate began in earnest. This represents an attempt to enforce another round of collective forgetting which helps whitewash history; in the end this makes it impossible to demand justice from the state. However, many Nigerians have continued to resist such attempts because within protest memory the toll plaza had become sacralised as a place of mourning and re-membrance. In the end, the state’s murderous move, which represents yet another episode in the long history of violence that has been the bane of the country, succeeded in adding more voices to the coterie of restless ghosts that travail the country’s haunted landscape. Those angry voices continue to murmur from the dark. And to engender the kind of “empathic repair” (Gobodo-Madikizela 2020) needed to start the journey to a liveable future, we have to be ready to be with, to listen to, and heal the dead. We should hearken to the words of Avery Gordon (1999) that we must reckon with those absent presences and offer them “a hospitable memory out of a concern for justice” (64)[1]. Hence, for the sake of justice we must like Horatio be ready to speak to them, to the presences that lie in the shadows; and like Odysseus we too must listen to dead Tiresias in charting a way to the future.

Works Cited

Abani, Chris. Song for Night. Akashic Books, 2007.

Adebanwi, Wale and Ebenezer, Obadare, editors. Introduction: Excess and Abjection in the Study of the African State. Encountering the Nigerian State. Palgrave Macmillan, 2010, pp. 1-28.

Butler, Judith. Frames of War: When is Life Grievable? 2009. Verso, 2010.

Eppel, Shari. “How Shall We Talk of Bhalagwe? Remembering the Gukurahundi Era in Matabeleland, Zimbabwe”. Postcolonial Haunting: Transforming Memories of Historical Trauma, edited by Kim Wale, Gobodo-Madikizela, Prager. Palgrave Macmillan, 2020 pp. 259-284. 

Gobodo-Madikizela Pumla. “Aesthetics of Memory, Witness to Violence and a Call to Repair.” Postcolonial Haunting: Transforming Memories of Historical Trauma, edited by Kim Wale, Gobodo-Madikizela, Prager. Palgrave Macmillan, 2020, pp. 119-149.

Gordon, Avery. Ghostly Matter: Haunting and Sociological Imagination. 1997. Minnesota UP, 1999.

Okri, Ben. The Famished Road. Anchor Books, 1991.

Ruin, Hans. Being with the Dead: Burial, Ancestral Politics, and the Roots of Historical Consciousness. Stanford UP, 2018.


[1] Several states have set up judicial panels to investigate the atrocities committed by SARS. While one could read this as a way of listening to ghosts in order to heal the dead, there have been several allegations that the panels are merely performative spaces where forms of “deaf listening” (Jolly 2012) are being practiced. Relatives of dead victims of police brutality have expressed doubt concerning the possibility of getting any form of justice.  

The Roots of Xenophobic Violence in South Africa—A Pan African Response

Albano Augustinho TrocoDr. Madalitso Zililo Phiri is a critical Black Studies scholar. Phiri was inaugurated into scholarship by a life-long fascination with politics, society, and world history and his research program pursue three complementary lines of inquiry: comparative social policy (in South Africa and Brazil), race and the political economy of development (especially in Africa), and Black radical thought. His publications include refereed journal articles, book chapters, and opinion pieces in internationally accredited periodicals such as the Journal of Southern African Studies (JSAS), Black Agenda Review, Africa Insight, and the South African Journal of International Affairs (SAIJA).


In South Africa, the Covid-19 pandemic has served to reify the manifold inequalities emanating from the country’s histories of colonial domination, Black genocide, and anti-black racism. But South Africa’s current social crisis is further exacerbated by internal perceptions that it has been inundated and infested with illegal immigrants who have eroded the country’s social fiber. It is a perspective that oftentimes leads to physical violence. Trucks driven by foreign nationals have been burned and there have been arrests and extra-judicial killings of ‘illegal’ workers, gardeners, and small shopkeepers from countries including Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania, and Somalia.

While such violence threatens to further polarize working-class communities, it also highlights the key existential and political problem of twenty-first century South Africa: that of the nature of the relationship between South African citizens, the belonging and inclusion of foreign nationals, and the post-apartheid polity. As a Malawian national with a Pan-African orientation living in South Africa, recent anti-immigrant actions have, for me, pointed to a need to understand the origins of the formation of the colonial nation-state, with the aim of dismantling it, as a means towards forging a more expansive and inclusive idea of citizenship.

Several dates are crucial to understanding how aspects of colonialism and Black resistance were at odds in shaping the trajectory of South Africa. These dates are 1910, 1912, and 1913. The year 1910 saw the formation of the Union of South Africa, whose sole aim was to unite the antagonistic British and Dutch (Boer) territories to exclude Black Africans from participating in this newly formed state under the guise of the mission civilisatrice. By contrast, 1912 saw the birth of the African National Congress (ANC) whose sole aim was to resist the exclusivist, colonial, and imperial idea that South Africa would be governed by privileged White citizens. If these two dates bring to the fore the origins of state bifurcated by White supremacy and resistance to it, then 1913 further consolidated ideas of difference and White economic privilege through two pieces of legislation: the Land Act and the Immigration Act.

The Land Act of 1913 instrumentalized the dispossession and economic destitution of Black Africans. In the same year, on May 8, 1913 the colonial parliament passed legislation that banned the recruitment of migrant workers from areas north of latitude 22 degrees which included British governed territories like Southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe), Nyasaland (Malawi) and the Portuguese colony of Mozambique.

The Immigration Act of 1913 has received less attention than the Land Act because contemporary contestations on redistributive politics in South African have focused on expropriation of land without compensation. However, both land dispossession and exclusive migration policies were produced under the epoch of a violent colonial modernity, and their consolidation in the colonial era were in the service of British imperialism. The Immigration Act of 1913, I argue, with its ban on the “tropical native,” was a progenitor of contemporary violence toward African nationals in South Africa. Banning the tropical native served to cement the ideas of exclusive citizenship that has shaped South Africa’s post-apartheid migration policies. It is no coincidence that the colonial regime fused land dispossession and banned the “tropical native” in the same year.

That violence, has been central to contemporary state making in South Africa, has been extensively documented, especially through the construction of ‘Nativism’ as a theory. Mahmood Mamdani distills ideas of White supremacy and segregation that are foundational to institutional state making by engaging with Jan Smuts’ policy of Nativism. Smuts suggested, “The British Empire does not stand for the assimilation of its peoples into a common type, it does not stand for standardization, but for the fullest freest development of its peoples along their own specific lines”. The mythical racial foundations of inclusion and exclusion in this newly formed union had been drawn. As Frantz Fanon conveys, colonial modernity has been adept at creating two centers: the universal “Man” and the bastardized “Other”.  By this logic, the bastardized “Other” is perpetually condemned into the “zone of non-being”. More recently, Mamdani  has argued that the global project of carving out the world into a European image was first experimented in Europe and the Americas.

Similarly, the modern South African state was founded on the premises of ethnic cleansing and perpetual servitude of the “tropical Native” and the “South African Native”. Both are produced and reproduced to serve imperial labor demands in an economy that excludes them. South Africa’s ban on migrant workers from its northern neighbors created an environment for illegal migration to thrive; thus, we can better understand the phenomenon of poverty, unemployment, low wages, wars, and other factors that compel people to move from one country to another. This challenges current narrow nationalist populism that is insurgent and resurgent across Western countries and several African countries. Rather, the existence of a legal prohibition of any human activity almost always creates a field of illegal practices.

South Africa recently passed a new law in response to growing concerns in the country about its ‘porous’ borders. This became more topical when a Malawian who was living in South Africa and purporting to be a Christian prophet clandestinely escaped the country while facing charges of money laundering and racketeering, much to the dismay and embarrassment of South African authorities. Talk radio was filled with racist and xenophobic rhetoric that finds frequent expression in phrases like “we in South Africa” and “those people from Africa”. Figures on illegal immigration tend to be exaggerated and dated. According to 2011 figures from Statistics South Africa, legal migrants were about 4.2% of the total population, or about 2.1 million people. Over 75% come from across the African continent, with the majority (68%) from within the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region. Over 45% of those from the SADC region were Zimbabweans.

In contrast to the current discourse about legal and illegal immigration, radical Pan-Africanists aimed to unmake the racial hierarchies that have been solidified by European colonial modernity. It is common for people to superficially invoke Nkrumah’s ‘Africa Must Unite’ thesis by referring to ethnic and linguistic homogeneities across the Southern Africa sub-region and using tropes like  “we are all the same” and “we should just unite”. The nation-state, however, continues to lure us into its symbols of belonging and exclusion, including sovereignty, currencies, national anthems, cuisine, linguistic identity, religiosity, music, art, sport and complex collective histories that define what and who we are.

Fanon’s admonition in The Wretched of the Earth helps us understand the contemporary trap: “[S]o comrades,” he averred, “let us not pay tribute to Europe by creating states, institutions and societies which draw their inspiration from her”. South Africa’s path toward the transcendence of a violent, exclusionary national state is the creation of a Pan-African federation that stretches across the Southern African sub-continent. This redivision would not be predicated on the Southern Africa Development Community, which retains neocolonial political and market imperatives. The Pan-African federation might geographically redraw colonial constructed borders and identities on three geographical fronts: South Africa-Namibia-Angola, South Africa-Lesotho-Swaziland-Botswana, and South Africa-Zimbabwe-Mozambique-Malawi-Zambia. Adom Getachew reconstructs this model in her discussion of Kwame Nkrumah’s and Eric Williams’ vision of postcolonial federation. For them, regional federations would overcome the postcolonial predicament by creating larger, more diverse domestic markets, organizing collective development plans, ensuring regional redistribution, and providing for regional security.  Such a federation would help to overcome the current postcolonial predicament because, as Ndlovu-Gatsheni and Mhlanga suggest, “borders as political and social creations rather than natural phenomena, must be open to negotiation, re-construction, re-drawing, contestations, acceptances and total rejections”.  This is, in part, the promise of Pan-Africanism.

This article was first published by Black Agenda Report on February 24, 2021.

Why COVID-19 can’t be blamed for Angola’s failure to have local governance

Albano Augustinho TrocoAlbano Augustinho Troco is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow under the SA/UK Bilateral Chair in Political Theory. He holds a PhD in Political Studies from the University of the Witwatersrand. His research interests encompass issues on electoral politics, democratization and autocratization studies, secessionist conflicts and international relations.


Joao Lourenco, president of Angola. His promise to hold municipal elections this year has come to naught. Chesenot/Getty Images

Angola is the only southern African nation that has not introduced a system of elected local government. This, 45 years after it made constitutional provisions for the establishment of this important tier of government.

In 2018, President João Lourenço recommended that local elections be held in 2020. This will no longer be the case. The government blames the COVID-19 health crisis for the failure. But the truth shows otherwise.

Even without the pandemic, local government elections would not have happened this year because Angola’s National Assembly has not approved the necessary legal framework. The framework, which was expected by mid-August this year, would have supported the gradual implementation of local government functions.

This, in my view, is part of a deliberate delaying strategy by the ruling party, the People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), to maintain a system where the central government appoints all officials at sub-national levels. The introduction of local elections would see the ruling party lose its monopoly over local government for the first time since independence.

Angola’s system of governance

Angola has four levels of government – national, provincial, municipal and district (comuna). The last three enjoy little policy, budgetary or fiscal autonomy because of a rigid top-down relationship with the national government based in Luanda.

Central government effectively appoints all senior officials at the three lower levels. The president appoints the 18 provincial governors. They in turn appoint the 164 municipal administrators, who then appoint the 475 administrators of the districts.

Because officials at sub-national level are not elected by the people, they are politically and institutionally accountable to their hierarchical superiors, and, ultimately, to the president. Hence, sub-national government in Angola has always been remote from the people.

This governance system makes Angola one of the most politically and administratively centralised states in Africa. This heightens the zero-sum nature of national politics in Angola.

The party that wins the general elections gets to fill all executive offices with its own political appointees. These often also assume the chairmanship of the ruling party in their jurisdiction.

As a result, political parties that lose national elections can’t participate in local government. The People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola, which has been in power for decades, is the main beneficiary of this system. This practice will change once local elections are established.

Constitutional journey

Angola’s first post-colonial constitution referred to the concept of elected local government with administrative and fiscal autonomy. This constitution was enacted in 1975, the same year the country gained independence from Portugal.

Seventeen years later, a constitutional revision law postulated that state organisation at the local level should comprise two structures: elected local representative bodies (autarquias locais) and decentralised local units of the central government (órgãos administrativos locais).

The latest constitution of 2010 reaffirms the commitment to these principles. But it declares that the effective institutionalisation of local authorities will happen gradually.

A wide range of factors has hampered the implementation of these constitutional provisions. They include:

  • the 27 years of civil war between the People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola and Jonas Savimbi’s party, Unita (1975- 2002);
  • the establishment of single-party rule by the ruling party along Marxist-Leninist lines, giving rise to a highly centralised and securitised state;
  • the institution of administrative de-concentration reforms. This means that the central government has the ability to transfer some of its responsibilities to local government units, without necessarily allowing for the establishment of elected representative bodies;
  • the introduction of the principle of gradualism in establishing a system of elected local representatives.
  • the use of delaying tactics to maintain the status quo.

Empty promises

The introduction of local elections would see the ruling party lose its monopoly over local government for the first time since independence. Thus, from a cost-benefit perspective, it can be argued that the People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola does not have the incentive to implement locally elected government.

The party has delayed the implementation of a system of elected local representatives until the “conditions are right”. This would enable it to decentralise power without actually losing it.

For instance, in 2008, the Minister of Territorial Administration stated that local government elections would take place in 2011 after the constitutional changes of 2010. This never happened.

Similarly, in 2011 the ministry said that the country’s first local elections would be held by 2014, following a general election in 2012, and a population census in 2014. This too did not happen.

In 2016, the deputy president, Manuel Vicente, said local elections would possibly take place in 2021. Two years later President João Lourenço recommended that local elections be held in 2020. This came after consultations with the Council of the Republic (a constitutionally sanctioned body that advises the president on a wide range of issues).

The government announced that the local elections would start in selected municipalities, and spread to all municipalities by 2035. Opposition parties objected, and called for the simultaneous implementation of elected local government in all municipalities.

In August 2020, Parliament went into recess without completing the approval of the legal framework for the elections. The hope is that local elections will be held before the next general elections scheduled for 2022.

What next?

Angola has been in a severe economic crisis since 2014. The crunch is the combined result of a sudden decline in oil prices in international markets, a drop in domestic oil production, poor financial mismanagement, and massive corruption.

Consequently, the local currency has been devalued. This has raised public debt levels and external debt servicing costs. Meanwhile, foreign currency reserves continue to drop. This predicament could be used by the government to claim there is no money to hold local elections, further postponing the necessary development of local democracy.

For years, the ruling party has deployed delaying tactics to ensure that the central government appoints all officials at sub-national levels. The economy and current COVID-19 pandemic are simply the latest in a long series of excuses.


This article was first published by The Conversation on August 24, 2020.

Land evictions and the real power of City rulers

Laurence PiperLaurence Piper is a Political Scientist at the University of the Western Cape interested in urban governance, democracy, and informality in South Africa and comparatively. His latest book is Democracy Disconnected:Participation and Governance in a City of the South, Routledge, 2019, with Dr Fiona Anciano. He is a past President of the South African Association of Political Studies (SAAPS) 2016-8, and a founding member of the Association for Political Theory in Africa (APTA).


The current spate of housing evictions in Cape Town, Johannesburg and eThekwini seems especially malicious, not only because it is winter, but because of the assurance by national government that no evictions would happen in South Africa during the Covid-19 lockdown. City authorities argue that these are not evictions but rather efforts to stop land invasions initiated during the lockdown – a position that national government has endorsed. Whatever one thinks of this defence, it is cold comfort to those like Bulelani Qholani, yanked naked out of his home and left without shelter in the Cape winter rains.

Nevertheless, there is a point to the state’s case. Local government is much more concerned about the loss of land than illegal housing, and these evictions offer an important insight into the kinds of power at the heart of city rule in South Africa and beyond.

As argued in the recent book, Democracy Disconnected, city rule does not work like national government because city authorities are not sovereign over the people and places of the city. Rather they form part of a larger system of government where other spheres directly control key aspects of daily life. When the neighbourhood watch reports a crime to the police, it is engaging with national government. In turn, provincial government is responsible for the hospitals we go to for Covid-19.

It is really only over some basic services such as local roads, refuse collection, and street lighting that municipalities have complete control. Even then, the supply of electricity depends on the national parastatal, Eskom (enough said!). Furthermore, on the issues of greatest importance to most neighbourhoods around the country ­– jobs, crime, health, education and transport – local government is a bit player. The real policy-making power that impact on residents where they live does not lie with City Hall.

At the same time, our everyday democratic institutions such as neighbourhood associations, ward committees, ward councillors, city officials are connected to local government, which is great if the problem is fixing a pothole or refuse collection, but of little use if the issue is more important. Not having ward based politicians in provincial or national government further exacerbates this disconnect. Hence, in this everyday sense, local democracy is disconnected from the ‘power over’ the neighbourhoods in which people live.

But there is more to city rule than the divisions of powers between national, provincial and local government. In the analysis so far we have been thinking of political power as sovereignty in the western tradition – as the highest authority to make decisions over people and places. Following Thomas Hobbes and Max Weber, this conception of ‘power over’ law and policy is closely associated with having a monopoly on coercive capacity. It is the army and the police that ultimately back up the rule of law, and cities have limited powers over most laws and policies, and a small police force if any.

However, there is another way to think about power that is more relevant to municipalities, and that is the idea of power as a productive force – the ‘power to’ make society, and in the case of City rulers, the power to build houses, roads, harbours, airports, factories, communication infrastructure and so on.

This idea of power as productive is well made in many traditions of political thought, and a famous example is Foucault’s distinction in western history between state sovereignty as coercive control over citizens and state biopower as managing populations to enhance their biological wellbeing. If the destruction of shacks illustrates the former, educating people in social distancing and wearing masks to reduce the transmission of Covid-19 is an example of the latter.

However, in the context of city rule under conditions of democratic capitalism, loosely framed, Clarence Stone offers a more specific and empirically informed account of the centrality of ‘power to’, illustrating that the real challenge of city rule is generating and co-ordinating resources to literally build the city. As Stone argues, in a competitive capitalist system, government does not have all the resources to make the city on its own, and must seek out partnerships with business to build new houses, or malls, or ports, or factories, and so on. Economic policy thus profoundly shapes the distribution or resources among state and non-state actors, creating a massive co-ordination challenge. Consequently, a successful City Hall is one that can create mutually beneficial partnerships with other spheres of state, capital and residents to generate and coordinate the resources to make the city.

And so we return to the issue of evictions. In brief, ownership and control of city land is an important resource, and therefore a key source of productive power for City Hall to ‘steer’ the urban environment. This is especially pronounced across the Global South as high levels of urbanisation mean that cities must grow the built environment to accommodate a burgeoning population. Land is a source of productive power for City rulers in three ways.

First, control of city land also gives cities important influence when it comes to engaging provincial and national government over the building of new schools, hospitals, police stations, power stations and the like. This often takes the form of negotiating the exchange of land or changing land use rights. So important is keeping control of land that the City of Cape Town changed its practice to allow any department to veto the sale of city land, even against the wishes of the executive. This was intended to prevent possible short-term collusion between politicians and their business partners (Helen Zille, interviewed by author 26-09-2017).  

Second, rents in the form of local taxes (rates) are a key source of income for the metropolitan municipalities in South Africa, alongside the sale of services, for example electricity charges. A case in point: the City of Cape Town earns about a quarter of its revenue from electricity sales, and about a fifth from property rates. Third, zoning policy offers municipalities a means of expressing productive power by controlling what various groups can do with land in the city – especially through offering commercial or industrial rights for business. (This may be an important, if informal, source of revenue for political parties too).

These three reasons are why land matters so much to cities. It is an important source of much of their power, now conceived in productive rather than coercive terms. Of course, coercive power remains important – not least to protect City control over land as shown by the recent evictions – because it is the access to productive power enabled by controlling land that matters most in the growing urban South.

In conclusion then, as tempting as it is to blame the evictions in Cape Town on the anti-poor attitude of the DA-led City (and to be fair they have some form here), the fact that it is also happening in ANC-run municipalities reveals a deeper cause. City rulers need land for rental income, to create partnerships with business to attract investment to add value to land and to create jobs, and as a key resource in engaging other spheres of the state in building the city. Only once we understand the importance of land to the power of City Hall, and rethink power in terms of production rather than coercion, can we understand the political will to evict poor people from land in the winter cold and during a pandemic.

What sets good and bad leaders apart in the coronavirus era

Lawrence HamiltonLawrence Hamilton is the NRF British Academy Research Professor in Political Theory, Wits and Cambridge. He contributes to rethinking political theory from and for the Global South. His works include Amartya Sen (2019), Freedom is Power (2014) and The Political Philosophy of Needs (2003).



Crises bring out the best and worst of politicians and populations. Folly, fear and fortitude are on display everywhere. In the main, democracies have fared better than non-democracies in handling the coronavirus pandemic.

But the record is very varied indeed. What explains this? What can be done about it?

Among democratic regimes, at the one extreme we have seen denialism, the denigration of scientific advice and an obsession with putting the economy before lives. This is especially evident in the United States and Brazil. At the other we have witnessed the organised, prudent, empathetic responses of countries such as South Korea, New Zealand, and Finland. South African president Cyril Ramaphosa initially did very well, but some subsequent decisions might damage his good record.

These two extremes of leadership style were evident even before COVID-19.

The USA and Brazilian responses to the pandemic, led by President Donald Trump and President Jair Bolsonaro, have been characterised by secretive, narcissistic, paranoid, hubristic and impulsive decision-making. These actions have endangered the lives and livelihoods of their residents, over which they have a duty of care.

The data bears this out well. Despite having arrived on their shores relatively late, the pandemic has ripped through their populations, with no sign of abating. They lead in infections and deaths.

At the other extreme, a common denominator has been a firm attempt by political leaders to “follow the science” and control the spread of the virus and fake news from the outset. A combination of transparency, prudence, empathy, timing and courage has produced excellent results in South Korea, New Zealand and Finland.

South Africa’s response has been lauded, though it is beginning to attract criticism for heavy-handed policing and some inexplicable decisions.

Democracy and leadership

What becomes clear is that in these fast-moving and life-defining times in democracies a great deal depends on the quality of the elected leadership. Democracies that happen to have leaders who simultaneously engage empathetically with those they govern and are informed by good science are best able to deal with the crisis.

They gather clear-eyed knowledge of their countries’ particular circumstances, and display courage and timing in making critical and sometimes unpopular decisions. They are able to overcome many of the challenges that the pandemic throws up.

Democracy helps, but it is not the deciding factor. What matters most is what kind of leader is in place, where his or her priorities lie: the well-being of the populace or the interests of a small group.

Four of the top five performing countries in terms of lives saved and control of the spread of the virus have women leaders: New Zealand’s Jacinda ArdernFinland’s Sanna Marin, Germany’s Angela Merkel and Taiwan’s Tsai Ing-wen. These women display empathy and firm focus on the well-being of their populations.

Politicians judge best when they listen to their populations and learn from the science. That is why democracy is uniquely placed to engender good judgements, as the Indian economist Amartya Sen argued with regard to famines, and I have argued elsewhere.

Yet, it would be mistaken to think that democracy guarantees good judgement. If the purveyors of conspiracy theories and exemplars of prejudice are also your democratic leaders, democracy itself cannot resolve things. It only gives citizens the power to remove those leaders at the next election.

Bread, circuses and crises

In the current crisis, Ramaphosa has done a much better job than Trump and Bolsonaro.

Ramaphosa got off to a great start. He acted firmly, quickly, with clear justification and impressive results. South Africans have just emerged from one of the most severe lockdowns imposed anywhere in the world. This kept the infection rate nearly as low as that of South Korea, though it is now shooting up.

During this period, however, there have been at least two problematic decisions that undermine public trust and thus how people may behave.

The first is the decision to ban the sale of tobacco. Even if we could distinguish sharply between basic needs and other needs – something I dispute – the idea that addiction to smoking falls into the latter category, and that, along with the fact that COVID-19 is a respiratory disease, justifies the ban, is misguided. For an addict, the need for a cigarette may often trump even the need for vital nutrition.

The second is the decision to allow religious gatherings to resume under lockdown level 3. Having spent so long restricting gatherings, to now allow larger gatherings seems like folly. It is well known – cases abound from South Africa to South Korea – that, like funerals, large religious gatherings are super-spreading events.

Along with the ban on tobacco products and the incorrect assumption that the state could directly meet the basic nutritional needs of the population via the delivery of food parcels, the response to the religious lobby is reminiscent of Juvenal’s comment under imperial Rome some two thousand years ago that all the people really want is “bread and circuses”. This is not what people want or need. They require the power to express their actual needs and interests and the democratic means to ensure that government responds to these.

Ramaphosa’s good leadership has been undermined by a paternalistic attitude to people’s needs and seeming deference to South Africa’s powerful religious lobby.

Lessons to be learnt

Two things can be learnt from the varied responses to the coronavirus crisis.

First, we must use it to find a roadmap for how we can properly make the health and well-being of a state’s population the raison d’être of its government. The first thing to identify is that health is not the “absence of disease” but the status we each have when our ever-changing needs are optimally satisfied. For this, we need a politics that allows us to express and assess our needs, and determine who is best placed to represent us in responding to these needs, all in non-dominating conditions.

Second, given that it is no accident that those leaders who have responded worst to this crisis have also been the main sources of countless conspiracy theories and misinformation, we must learn to keep oligarchs away from political power. Under representative democracy, bar outright revolution, we do not have the power to affect the everyday decisions of our representatives, but we can keep those with exclusive social and economic interests out of positions of political power.


This article was first published by The Conversation, June 7, 2020

South Africa in lockdown: COVID-19 information and its inconsistencies

Candice BaileyCandice Bailey is a Political Studies PhD candidate at the University of the Witwatersrand looking into the Promotion of Access to Information Act and how it enables democracy.


SOUTH AFRICA enters a new phase of its ongoing COVID-19 fight this week, loosening the grip on a variety of regulations introduced in mid-March to try and contain the spread of the deadly virus. The latest stage of the lockdown takes place as South Africa marks more than 30 000 COVID-19 cases and close to 700 deaths. 

Level three means that most of the economy opens up, a large cohort of workers return, previously forbidden goods such as alcohol go on sale and the night-time curfew is lifted. Social distancing is still a must, as is wearing masks in public and so is vigorous handwashing. Staying home as much as possible is still the best course of action and interprovincial travel remains prohibited, with the exception of business travel and those attending funerals of close relatives. 

At this time the government is relying on the public to take collective responsibility for the management of the virus. Providing definitive guidance and information to the citizenry is more important now than ever before. One critical issue is the need for people to understand the severity of this pandemic, how easily it can spread and the fact that even the simple day-to-day tasks we carry out can put us at risk of contracting the virus. 

But the concern here is that the government’s track record over the last 9 to 10 weeks with providing definitive guidance hasn’t been great. This may have disastrous consequences for the South African government which should be seen as the most reliable authority on COVID-19 guidelines. 

President Cyril Ramaphosa’s initial address announcing lockdown measures put everyone at ease. The public felt informed and in control. But as the lockdown has progressed, Ramaphosa and members of his cabinet have created scenarios of pandemonium. At certain points there has been clear definitive communication on the lockdown rules. On other occasions the public has been left in pockets of vast uncertainty caused by inconsistent messaging and uncoordinated communication. Sometimes the goalposts have shifted. At other times critical statistical information has been left out when engaging with the public.

Some government officials have made about turns mid-regulation, while other ministers have bordered on an authoritarian approach, threatening the public about regulations. There are countless examples. The to-ing and fro-ing of when exactly public schools would reopen, is a case in point. The sale of cigarettes and tobacco products is another. The actions of some soldiers when implementing enforcement can be added to the list. And a clear explanation on why the Western Cape has higher figures than the rest of the country and why its engaged in a different testing model is another question that has not been convincingly addressed. 

The other worrying trend emerging is the seemingly reluctant stance of Provincial Government officials in the Western Cape to adhere to national decisions, creating confusion. 

Although there are mechanisms that the public could use to comment on regulations, this has also been a clouded issue. It’s still generally unclear how the public can comment on the regulations. Is there a central place where the public can lodge their comments? And what about those in rural areas – with limited access to electronic communication – how do they make sure their voices are heard? 

We are in unchartered territory – and to a certain degree the government must be commended for rolling with the punches and taking definitive action very early on in the pandemic’s cycle. But there are times that they have gotten it very wrong.  The good thing is that they were able to admit when in practice certain regulations were just not workable and they needed to be amended accordingly. The decision not to sell baby clothing in level 5 is a clear example of how one sector of the citizenries needs were completely overlooked.

COVID-19 will be around for a long time and the only way citizens are going to survive it is if they get information they need – and are able to make informed choices about the issues that affect them. 

Renowned Indian economist and philosopher Amartya Sen has published one of the most notable discussions within modern democratic theory on the need for information in democracy. In the time of COVID-19, we need to remember these words and ensure that the information we receive is not only provided consistently, but also that it is reliable and above all accurate. In his seminal work The Idea of Justice, Sen discusses the role that the media plays in society, drawing on the links between the media and public reasoning. He speaks of an informational role the media play in disseminating knowledge, allowing critical scrutiny and facilitating public reasoning. He also emphasizes the importance of “general information” about what is happening where. One of Sen’s poignant illustrations is that of famine. He argues that “famines do not take place in functioning democracies” – and that the media have an important role in this because it points to the protective power of political liberty. Sen says: “When a government is accountable to the public, and when there is free news-reporting and uncensored public criticism, then the government too has an excellent incentive to do its best to eradicate famines.” Sen was speaking about the Bengal famine of 1943 where an estimated 3 million people died. 

The COVID-19 pandemic cannot be compared to the Bengal famine. But it is an unprecedented global health crisis with more than 6 million people infected and more than 370 000 people dead. The estimates are that in South Africa, at least 45 000 people will die from this virus.

There are two important points that Sen makes. Firstly, public dialogue about the calamity can make the fate of the victim a powerful political issue which ultimately has an impact on voting. But it is also able to make people take an interest in the matter through public discussion. The second point concerns the informational role, which provides the public with knowledge. What this suggests is first and foremost that democracy has a role in creating informed citizens, and mechanisms such as freedom of access to information can be used by the media to effect accountability. 

The ruling of the Pretoria High Court this week shows that the judiciary also has a role to play in ensuring the dissemination of clear and precise information. It must do this by admonishing the government when it errs in drafting or enforcing regulations. The court’s  decision to send the government back to the drawing board and focus on drafting level 3 and 4 regulations that are in line with South Africa’s constitution is an indication that its democracy is alive and well. 

If the South African government wants the support of the public, they need to clean up their communication act. South Africans expect them to provide clear precise and well considered communication. And they need to remember that in a democracy you need to subscribe to a brand of governance that is citizen-centred. People need to feel considered and listened to. The public don’t want their concerns to fall on deaf ears. They want to feel like democracy is functioning in the face of the global health crisis. 

The expectation of the electorate as a collective is not that each individual’s preferences and requests be met, but that the needs of the citizens are dutifully engaged and considered when decisions are made. South Africa has a mixed participatory and representative democracy, but  for citizens to truly participate, they need to be well informed. Accurate information gives citizens the ability to effectively live their lives. If the status quo remains and the government fails to adequately share information, our democracy and our freedoms, such as access of information that holds it together, will be on a slippery slope.

COVID-19 and the Politics of the Year of the Nurse

Isabel BosmanIsabel Bosman is currently studying towards a Master’s degree in Political Studies at the University of the Witwatersrand. Her research interests include elections, electronic voting and biometrics, and she is also interested in Political Theory. She is a 2020 Konrad Adenauer Stiftung scholar. As part of the scholarship programme, she is also a current intern at the South African Institute of International Affairs (SAIIA) where she works in the African Governance and Diplomacy programme as well as SAIIA’s ‘Atoms for Development’.


When the World Health Organisation (WHO) last year named 2020 the ‘International Year of the Nurse and Midwife’, there was no way of knowing that this would have a prophetic ring to it. Five months into 2020, the picture that the WHO had in mind celebrating the work of nurses and midwives looks dramatically different. It’s one in which nurses and other critical medical personnel are being pushed to their very limits in a global pandemic that leaves more questions than answers in its wake. And yet celebrating their work is all the more relevant in the current context.

The challenges critical medical personnel are currently facing all lead back to a central question of care. There are three main challenges these critical workers face: insufficient supply of necessary protective equipment on a global scale; growing hostility towards them; and difficulties with access to childcare.

Considering the essential services they are providing, these are all challenges that they should not be subjected to, particularly not as the world marks the Year of the Nurse.

These critical workers all need the physical and emotional protection they deserve so that they fulfil their role as caregivers. It is imperative that their voices find expression and that their needs for personal care are met so that they extend care to the wider population in need of it.

Insufficient supply of necessary protective equipment

Critical medical personnel are some of the most important essential service providers the world needs right now. As a result, they are among the people with the most direct exposure to the coronavirus and in a perpetual state of risk. However, globally the life preserving Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) they need is in short supply. As the virus continues to spread, demand for this equipment naturally goes up. And with it, the cost of this necessary equipment has gone up significantly at the same time. As a response to the pandemic, the WHO calculates that medical personnel need a monthly total of 89 million masks, 76 million gloves, and 1.6 million protective goggles. Two months ago the WHO estimated that along with rising demand, a 40% increase in production of PPEs would be necessary.

Without the necessary protective equipment in the field, it is only a matter of time before a dilemma of a different kind develops: the more medical personnel infected with the disease, the less will be available to provide treatment to not only COVID-19 patients, but those with other conventional illnesses as well.

The effects of this can already be felt in South Africa.  Duduza clinic in Gauteng has been closed   after a nurse contracted COVID-19 and St. Augustine Hospital in Durban has halted the admission of new patients to allow staff and previously admitted patients to undergo testing following the death of three COVID-19 patients. These two examples show that society as a whole will be affected if nurses and other critical medical personnel are not thoroughly protected.

Growing hostility

Another challenge that nurses share on a global scale is increasing feelings of hostility towards them that often manifests in physical violence and aggression. Medical personnel have had to endure harmful chemicals and rocks thrown at them. In Mexico and Australia, hospital staff have refrained from publicly donning their uniforms for fear of physical violence and people spitting on them. In what Roborgh and Fast call ‘a deliberate weaponisation of COVID-19’, medical professionals in New Zealand and Australia as well as the UK have had to endure people trying to purposefully cough or spit on them.

In parts of Asia medical personnel have been threatened with arrest and in the UK and US have had to endure limitations on their freedom of speech for speaking out against uncooperative governments and the lived experiences of dealing first hand with the virus. In other cases, medical personnel are evicted from their homes by landlords concerned that they will carry and spread the virus (see also Roborgh & Fast, 2020). In Roborgh and Fast’s analysis, this adds ‘safety issues and economic hardship at a time of profound personal and professional pressure.’

Difficulties with access to childcare

A third important aspect to consider in this context is the question of childcare. Childcare, or familial care more broadly, is still largely dominated by women. This is important when considering the global gender – make up of medical workers, also dominated by women. The WHO has determined that women make up 70% of medical professionals worldwide. Zooming in on the country level, in the US, women occupy 76% of all jobs in the field and more specifically, they constitute 85% of nursing staff in the US.

Recently, it was reported that medical personnel in Japan are prohibited from sending their children to day care facilities or the few schools that are open, or in less extreme cases are required to present proof that their children are COVID-free. One hospital already reported that, as a result of the prohibition, medical personnel have had to take leave in order to tend to their children. 

As part of the global response to the pandemic, schools and childcare facilities have closed en masse. Duty bound, medical personnel and other essential workers provide much needed services to the wider population. However one has to ask what happens in cases where these workers require childcare, but are unable to access it?

These three factors are all intrinsically linked to the one aspect that forms such a central part of the healthcare profession: care.

How can the world truly celebrate the Year of the Nurse when nurses and other critical workers are facing these challenges in the line of duty? Are those frontline workers who are providing an essential service really being honoured? It is necessary for the world to ask in the Year of the Nurse, ‘who will care for the caregivers?’

The 50TH Anniversary of the End of the Nigerian Civil War: Revisiting the Ante-Bellum Strategies

Frank Aragbonfoh AbumereFrank Aragbonfoh Abumere is the Leader of the Global South (Developing World) Research Unit at the Arctic University of Norway. Until recently, he was a: Senior Member of St Antony’s College, University of Oxford; Visiting Fellow, African Studies Centre, Oxford School of Global and Area Studies, University of Oxford; and Visiting Research Fellow, Department of International History, London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE).


On the 50th anniversary of the end of the Nigeria Civil War, the consequences of the war still plague the Nigerian state. In other words, the Nigerian state is not merely faced with residual losses; the tragedies of the war have become recurrent phenomena. The combats and deaths of the war might have ended; nevertheless, the destruction, devastation, disunity and enmity left behind by the war are a spectre hunting the Nigerian state today. This prompts one to ponder on what could have been done strategically in order to prevent the war since failure to prevent the war was largely a failure of strategy. Except such failure of strategy is examined, even if history does not repeat itself, it may rhyme. The war has already happened once as tragedy, it should not happen secondly as a farce.

When dealing with crises and conflicts, many times we commit four errors of strategy. One error of strategy is the failure to use hard power when and where it is required. Another error of strategy is the failure to use soft power when and where it is required. The other errors of strategy are using only hard power when and where a combination of hard and soft powers (smart power) is required and using only soft power when and where a combination of soft and hard powers (smart power) is required. These errors of strategy sometimes result in grave and disastrous consequences. In order to prevent, resolve, manage or deal with crises and conflicts successfully, we need to understand that some crises and conflicts require hard power, some require soft power, yet others require both hard and soft powers (smart power). Hence, I argue that relying on hard power when and where soft power is required, relying on soft power when and where hard power is required, and relying on either hard or soft power alone when both are required to prevent, resolve, manage or deal with crises and conflicts is a project in futility which may result in grave and disastrous consequences. In the ante-bellum period of the Nigeria Civil War, the afore-mentioned four errors of strategy made it impossible to prevent the war. 

The war failed to be avoided because of a combination of errors of strategy by the principal actors in the ante-bellum period. I shall focus on the principal actors of the ante-bellum period since it was their actions and omissions that were of utmost importance to the country during that period. I am not necessarily isolating the principal actors as individuals; I see them both as individuals and representatives of the various collaborators with whom they acted or failed to act, and the various constituencies they represented.

The Coup Leaders

The January 1966 coup leaders believed it was only through hard power that they could bring about the revolution they wanted. This extreme reliance on military hard power did not only result in the July 1966 counter-coup and the subsequent crisis which culminated in secession and civil war, it would also have a domino effect that would go on to establish a coup culture and military rule in Nigeria until 29th May, 1999.

The July 1966 counter-coup leaders believed the only way they could get the ‘justice’ they wanted for the slain northern political and military leaders, the change of leadership of the country, and the secession of the northern region was through hard power. Like the January 1966 coup leaders’ extreme reliance on hard power, the July 1966 counter-coup leaders’ extreme reliance on hard power did not only result in the subsequent crisis which culminated in secession and civil war, it would also have a domino effect that would go on to establish a coup culture and military rule in Nigeria until 29th May, 1999.

Aguiyi-Ironsi

Aguiyi-Ironsi’s failure to ‘adequately’ punish the January 1966 coup leaders and Gowon’s total failure to punish the July 1966 counter-coup leaders can be considered to be grave strategic failures of relying on soft power when hard power should have been relied on. Aguiyi-Ironsi was seen as being too ‘soft’, rather than ‘hard’, on the January 1966 coup leaders. This contributed to northern military officers’ quest for ‘justice’ or vengeance which resulted in the July 1966 counter-coup. To what extent Aguiyi-Ironsi should have used hard power to adequately punish the coup leaders is difficult to tell. But having already used hard power to successfully check the coup leaders and arrest most of them, prosecuting and adequately punishing them were the next steps he failed to take. On his part, Gowon’s placating and pacifying the July 1966 counter-coup leaders rather than punishing them contributed to the Igbo (in particular) and the easterners (in general) deciding they were no longer safe anywhere in the country except in their own region. It was this grounded feeling of insecurity that would subsequently, one year later, lead to secession and consequently the war.

Aguiyi-Ironsi did not use military power to stop northerners from massacring the Igbo in particular and killing easterners in general. Here, Aguiyi-Ironsi needed to act urgently; he should have immediately used hard power to stop the massacre, and then employ soft power to pacify, reconcile and reintegrate both sides of the conflict. Gowon too did not use hard power to stop the northern soldiers who were massacring Igbo soldiers in particular and also killing soldiers from the eastern region in general. Furthermore, Gowon did not use military force to stop northern civilians from massacring Igbo civilians in particular and killing eastern civilians in general. 

Aguiyi-Ironsi opted for extreme pacifism and persuasion to the extent that although the country was very volatile, he failed to employ military power to quell the ongoing unrest and to prevent the imminent violence that was almost certain to happen. He only relied on ‘soft’ consultations and persuasions; he went on a nationwide tour to seek the support of leaders in the different regions (especially traditional rulers) in pacifying and persuading their people to shelf violence. It was on that tour that he too was assassinated. While engaging on pacifism and persuasion, Aguiyi-Ironsi should have at least put the security threat level on ‘red’, and hence put his hard power on alert since he knew the country was facing severe security risk.

Gowon

Like Aguiyi-Ironsi, Gowon extremely relied on soft power and failed to use hard power when he should have used it to prevent an imminent civil war. In essence, he failed to combine hard power with soft power; in other words, he failed to use smart power when it was required. While engaging in pacifism and persuasion, Gowon too should have at least put the security threat level on ‘red’, and hence put his hard power on alert since he knew the country was facing severe security risk. Gowon believed that persuasion would work; hence the Aburi meeting which led to the Aburi Accord. He would later agree that persuasion failed. Moreover, he believed that ‘appeasement’ of Ojukwu and the eastern region would work.                                                                                                                                           

But Gowon would later agree that appeasement failed. Even when using hard power, Gowon was extremely cautious to the extent that rather than using military action to prevent the secession, he opted for, and attempted to use, police action. It was only when his first and preferred option failed that he opted to use military action. Nevertheless, to his credit, Gowon was conscious of the fact that in trying to prevent a civil war like the Nigerian one, the problem with using excessive hard power is that even if it succeeds to prevent the war, it will still be counter-productive later on. Using too much hard power, even if it succeeds in preventing the secession, may make the Igbo resentful of Nigeria. If the Igbo’s resentment of Nigeria is a continuous one, then this raises questions of domination and legitimacy. Continuously forcing a people to be under you against their will is arguably tantamount to domination and hence the question of legitimacy will becloud the achieved ‘forced unity.’

Ojukwu

During the January 1966 coup, Ojukwu relied on hard power to contribute to stopping the coup leaders from taking over the country. After the coup, during the subsequent crisis that ensued, Ojukwu initially relied on soft power – as evidenced by the Aburi meeting and accord. But, he would later resort to hard power to get the secession of the Eastern Region. Firstly, when he needed to use hard power during the January 1966 coup, he did. Secondly, when he needed to use soft power during the subsequent crisis which ensued after the coup, he did. However, thirdly, when he totally jettisoned soft power and absolutely relied on hard power in order to guarantee the secession of the Eastern Region, he fell into an error of strategy. During the Aburi meeting he wanted a clause to be included in the accord; this was to allow regions to secede if they so wish. But the clause was rejected by the representatives of the federal government, hence its non-inclusion in the accord. So, we can say Ojukwu first attempted to use soft power, when that failed, he resorted to hard power. Nevertheless, the war became inevitable the moment he decided to totally jettison soft power and absolutely rely on hard power. Ojukwu over-relied on hard power and then got his strategy wrong.  

Conclusion

In summary, it is not that Ojukwu, the January 1966 coup leaders and the July 1966 counter-coup leaders should have totally rejected hard power and absolutely opted for soft power. So also, it is not that Aguiyi-Ironsi and Gowon should have totally rejected soft power and absolutely opted for hard power. Soft power might work extremely well, or it might not even work at all.  So also, hard power might work extremely well, or it might not even work at all. Soft power might work well to some extent and might not work well to some extent. So also, hard power might work well to some extent and it might not work well to some extent. Some contexts require soft power just as some contexts require hard power. But some contexts require smart power. Given that smart power contains the resources of both soft and hard powers, smart power has the best possible chance of success and hence it is the best possible option.