Tag Archives: governance

Game of Thrones in Himalayas Leave Nepalis Cold

A girl showers her sister at the displacement camp for earthquake victims at Chuchepati in Kathmandu, Nepal, September 19, 2016. Picture taken September 19, 2016. To match Insight NEPAL-QUAKE/POLITICS Thomson Reuters Foundation/Navesh Chitrakar  - RTST7C9

A girl showers her sister at the displacement camp for earthquake victims at Chuchepati in Kathmandu, Nepal, September 19, 2016. Picture taken September 19, 2016. To match Insight NEPAL-QUAKE/POLITICS Thomson Reuters Foundation/Navesh Chitrakar

By Nita Bhalla and Gopal Sharma 
November, 2016

HOKSHE, Nepal (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Farmer Ganesh Prasad Gautam beamed as the young woman behind the desk littered with files called his name out at the rundown government office in the mountains of central Nepal.

After 18 months of living in a shack made of corrugated iron, tarpaulin and bamboo amid the ruins of his earthquake-hit house, he is finally receiving long-promised government funds to start rebuilding his home.

The 54-year-old farmer was one of eight million people affected in April last year when a 7.8-magnitude quake struck the Himalayan nation – leaving 9,000 dead and destroying one million homes as well as schools, businesses roads, and bridges.

“The money is late and it’s not enough to build what I had before, but at least the government has given it,” Gautam said to nods from fellow villagers gathered at the office in Hokshe village, 64 km (40 miles) east of Kathmandu.

To our supporters, thank you. Newcomers, welcome to reader-supported Facts and Opinions, employee-owned and ad-free. We will continue only if readers like you chip in, at least 27 cents, on an honour system. If you value our work, contribute below. Find details and more payment options here.

    “We’ve already endured one winter and two monsoons like this – out in the open with no protection from the rain and cold.”

But Gautam is one of the lucky ones.

Constant feuding between a myriad of political parties has fuelled political turmoil and weak governance in Nepal, delaying efforts to rebuild the country of 28 million people despite an outpouring of aid, analysts said.

Ongoing political instability in a country which has seen 24 governments in 26 years has stymied reconstruction efforts.

“You are looking at a country that has had three governments since the earthquake – all coalitions and none with a solid majority,” said Renaud Meyer, Country Director for the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Nepal.

“There is no doubt the political landscape is the biggest barrier for the recovery and reconstruction of Nepal to take place. It requires consistency, it requires determination and the less open it is to spoilers, the better.”


Wedged between India and China, Nepal – famed as the birthplace of Buddha and home to Mount Everest – is one of the world’s poorest countries.

A decade-long civil war between Maoist rebels and government forces ended in 2006, raising hopes of development in a country where one in four people live on less than $1.90 a day – the World Bank’s measure of extreme poverty.

The three main parties – the Nepali Congress (NC), Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist-Centre) and the Unified Marxist Leninist (UML) – have over the years made unlikely bedfellows in fragile coalitions and politicians are seen as selfish and power hungry.

Critics say rather than focus on reconstruction, former Prime Minister Sushil Koirala’s NC-led government exploited a wave of national solidarity in the quake’s aftermath to finalise Nepal’s long overdue constitution.

Even though a new charter was adopted in September 2015, and a new coalition government led by Khadga Prasad Oli’s UML party took power, the historic moment was marred by bloodshed in street clashes in the southern Terai region bordering India.

More than 50 people died in the crisis, which forced Oli to resign nine months after taking power as his main coalition partner, the Maoist Centre party, withdrew its support.

The constitutional crisis and political changes resulted a six-month delay in setting up the National Reconstruction Authority (NRA) – the key agency overseeing Nepal’s recovery.

As a result, families are only now receiving the first installment of a promised 200,000 rupee ($1,880) housing grant.

But for some Nepalis, the funds are too little, too late.

Down the road from the five-star Hyatt Regency hotel in Chuchepati on the outskirts of Kathmandu, amid the hundreds of blue and white plastic tents which make up a displacement camp, housewife Shanti Pariyar, 42, complains of sleepless nights.

Little food, daily treks to queue for two jerry cans of clean water, few toilets, no privacy to bathe and monsoon rains which flood her tarpaulin tent are bad enough, she said.

But what keeps her up at night is the 300,000-rupee ($2,815) debt she has racked up since her village home was destroyed, forcing her family to move to the capital in search of work.

“I borrowed from my sisters in Dubai and also took credit from the grocery store for food, but now there is pressure as they want their money back,” said Pariyar who is from Jiri village in Dolakha district, 75 km (47 miles) from Kathmandu.

“Our lives have changed after the earthquake. Before I had a dream to educate my kids and make them doctors and engineers. Now I can’t even feed them.”


Since the NRA was established in January, reconstruction work has picked up dramatically with more than 2,700 engineers recruited to survey damaged and destroyed houses nationwide.

The government has signed agreements with 58 banks and financial institutions to distribute housing grants with first installments disbursed to 432,000 households.

NRA’s CEO Sushil Gyawali said the government wants to turn the disaster into an opportunity to “build back better” with housing grants subject to adherence of the country’s building codes to encourage people to build more resilient homes.

“If you count from the day the NRA was established, we have made good progress and that has been appreciated by everyone,” said Gyawali, a civil engineer.

“We want to make it faster, but if we are in a hurry and don’t plan, we may not be building back better.”

But the clouds of political instability still loom large, analysts said.

Under a power-sharing agreement between his party and Maoist leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal, who parliament voted as premier in August, Dahal will serve as prime minister until May, and then hand over power to Nepali Congress chairman Sher Bahadur Deuba.

That transition – as well as national elections due by January 2018 – could amount to even more delays in efforts to rebuild the country, development experts say.

Not only with each change in government comes changes in policy, but also the replacement of thousands of public servants across the country – from village to national level – who are generally appointed based on their political affiliations.

Development workers said new appointments often result in time lost re-discussing policies and previous decisions.

There is a concern the delay means people will not wait and will borrow money to rebuild basic structures again.

“The people don’t wait, so if they can get some funds from somewhere, they will build a new home, but they will not get the technical guidance, knowledge and expertise to build a safer house,” said UNDP’s Meyer.

“It’s a hot pursuit – a race against time – to provide that help to people to ensure that the 9,000 people who died did not die for nothing. You don’t want more to die in the next earthquake.”

Copyright Reuters 2016

(Reporting by Gopal Sharma and Nita Bhalla, Editing by Belinda Goldsmith and Katie Nguyen; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change. Visit news.trust.org)

Related stories from F&O’s archives:

Rescued from Slavery, Nepalis Rediscover Circus Magic, By Katie Nguyen, April, 2016

Nepal Then: a doctor’s journey, by Christine Gibson,  April/May 2015

There are terrible forces at work in Nepal, by Renee Comesotti

Earthquake postpones Nepal’s bright dawn, by Jonathan Manthorpe (paywall)

Nepal’s Predictable Agony, by Deborah Jones

The science behind the Nepal earthquake, by Mike Sanford, CP Rajendra, Kristin Moreell


Facts and Opinions is a boutique journal of reporting and analysis in words and images, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is funded by our readers. It is ad-free and spam-free, and does not solicit donations from partisan organizations. To continue we require a minimum payment of .27 for one story, or a sustaining donation. Details here; donate below. Thanks for your interest and support.

F&O’s CONTENTS page is updated each Saturday. Sign up for emailed announcements of new work on our free FRONTLINES blog; find evidence-based reporting in Reports; commentary, analysis and creative non-fiction in OPINION-FEATURES; and image galleries in PHOTO-ESSAYS. If you value journalism please support F&O, and tell others about us.

Posted in Also tagged , |

African democratic reform falters and falls

Mo Ibrahim. Photo Chatham House via Wikipedia, Creative Commons

Mo Ibrahim. Photo Chatham House via Wikipedia, Creative Commons

JONATHAN MANTHORPE: International Affairs
June 17, 2016

Two events in the last few days make it depressingly clear that after a few years of great political and social advances, Africa is slipping back into its bad old ways.

On Thursday, the Mo Ibrahim Foundation announced that yet again there is no one worthy of receiving its latest prestigious and lucrative prize for excellence in African leadership. Only four times since the award was launched 10 years ago have the judges found democratically elected leaders who qualified by having willingly left office when their mandate ended.

The second event this week gave focus to the foundation’s bleak assessment. In Angola, President Eduardo dos Santos, who has ruled the south-west African oil state for nearly 40 years, announced that his daughter, Isabel, 43, will be put in charge of the state-owned oil company Sonangol. To all intents, Sonangol is the Angolan economy and Isabel dos Santos is already judged by Forbes to be Africa’s richest woman by dint of being daughter of the president. Putting Isabel in charge of Sonangol looks very much as though Eduardo dos Santos is securing both the succession and the family fortune.

Please chip in at least .27 cents to continue reading. Real journalism — reporting and analysis — is not free, and it’s not supported by either governments or the tooth fairy. Details below, or click here.

The thumbs down on Africa’s leadership by the Mo Ibrahim Foundation follows the publication in April of its regular assessment of the state of governance and human and social rights in Africa. The latest exhaustive assessment concluded that while overall governance in Africa improved between 2000 and 2008, “since then it has been stagnating.”

Indeed, over much of Africa there has been a marked deterioration in human and political rights, the rule of law and sustainable economic opportunity.

The improvements in governance in Africa in the first years of the century flowed from enthusiasm for the newly-created New Partnership for African Development (NEPAD). The inspiration for this initiative was that the time had come for Africa to take responsibility for its own future. To that end, NEPAD committed Africa’s 54 countries to pursuing good government, democracy, human rights, conflict resolution, and an attractive environment for economic growth.

It is on these principles that the Mo Ibrahim Foundation has judged the continent’s progress and, in the last few years, lack of it.

In a commentary on the foundation’s analysis, the British-based Oxford Analytica, which describes itself as “a global analysis and advisory firm drawing on a macro expert network to advise clients on strategy and performance in complex markets,” foresees Africa returning to an era of instability.

Oxford Analytica points to rising authoritarianism, declining respect for civil liberties and opposition disillusionment with electoral politics highlighted in the foundation report.

While much of this abandonment of the NEPAD principles is undoubtedly home-grown, Oxford Analytica points to two external forces. One is the reduced emphasis by Western donor countries on human and political rights development as a prerequisite for aid. The other is the increased availability of aid from authoritarian regimes like China and Saudi Arabia. Beijing and Riyadh put no stock in encouraging the development of broadly democratic values and are much happier dealing with pliable petty despots than with open and representative systems.

It is not only in Africa, of course, that countries have discovered that money from the current Chinese and Saudi regimes comes with a heavy dose of the corruption virus.

Mo Ibrahim, 70, has been described as Britain’s “most powerful black man.” He was born in Sudan, then a British colony in all but name, of a Nubian family. He got his first science degree at Alexandria University in Egypt, then also a British domain. Ibrahim went on to get his masters degree in electrical engineering at the University of Bradford in England, and a doctorate in mobile communications from the University of Birmingham.

With mobile communications clearly the coming thing, Ibrahim was snapped up by British Telecom, the state telephone company, and became technical director of its Cellnet subsidiary. But in the late 1980s Ibrahim struck out by himself, founding his own consultancy and software company, which he later sold to the electronics giant Marconi for a small fortune.

In the later 1990s Ibrahim founded what has become Celtel. This company aimed at Africa where it has sold over 24 million cell phones in 14 countries. In 2005 he sold Celtel for $US3.4 billion, and set up the Mo Ibrahim Foundation with an endowment of about half that money.

The aim of the foundation is to encourage the NEPAD principles, and one of those is to persuade Africa’s leaders, who are notoriously averse to retirement, to ride off into the sunset when their shelf life is done. Ibrahim’s approach to getting Africa’s “Big Man” leaders to move on is crudely practical. He pays them off.

To be eligible for the Mo Ibrahim Foundation prize the African leaders must have been democratically elected and must give up office when their mandate is over. No Presidents-for-Life need apply. To those qualified and chosen the foundation gives an initial payment of $US5 million followed by a pension of $US200,000-a-year for life. But although this is the world’s most lavish prize for statesmanship – far exceeding the $US1.3 million of the Nobel Peace Prize – it is, sadly, not enough. Only leaders of the smallest and poorest African countries find the Mo Ibrahim prize seductive. For most the lure of being President-for-Life and the over-stuffed tax haven bank accounts that go with it are far more attractive than a paltry $US5 million and the $US200,000-a-year beer money.

This is why only four former African leaders have merited the award in the 10 years of its existence. South Africa’s Nelson Mandela was made an honourary laureate in 2007, but this was really a bit of publicity to kick off the prize. Otherwise, the winners are not household names, even in Africa. There was President Hifikepunye of Namibia, President Pedro Pires of Cape Verde, President Festus Mogae of Botswana, and President Joaquim Chissano – probably the most widely known — of Mozambique.

There are no foreseeable circumstances under which Angola’s Eduardo dos Santos would be eligible for the prize, or be bothered to seek such a small sum. He may have presided over one of the poorest countries in Africa since 1979 where about 70 per cent of the 22 million people live on less than $US2 a day, but dos Santos and his family are rolling in wealth.

Dos Santos is one of the few remaining classic African revolutionaries from the colonial era. As a schoolboy in the early 1960s he joined one of the organizations fighting against Portuguese rule, the Marxist People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA). He went into exile and wound up in the Soviet Union, where he earned degrees in petroleum engineering and in radar communications from the Azerbaijan Oil and Chemistry Institute in Baku. During this period he met and married a Russian woman, Tatiana Kukanova, the first of dos Santos’ three wives and the mother of Isabel.

After the Portuguese withdrew from most of their colonies in 1975, Angola fell into a three-cornered, tribal-based civil war. The MPLA kept control of the capital, Luanda, and much of the north of the country, including its oil reserves. The diamond fields of the south financed the forces of the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA), led by Jonas Savimbi, allied to South Africa and the United States. The civil war continued until Savimbi’s death in 2002.

After independence in 1975, dos Santos rose through the ranks of the MPLA, and in 1979 became the party’s leader and Angola’s president. Elections, all of highly questionable authenticity, have come and gone and he has remained firmly in charge especially since the end of the civil war. In recent years dos Santos has not bothered to hold presidential elections. Now and again there have been parliamentary elections, which the MPLA inevitably wins. Dos Santos has taken the view that as he is head of the MPLA, that automatically makes him president again.

From the start, dos Santos turned Angola into one of Africa’s premier kleptocracies. International oil companies loved dealing with a president with a degree in petroleum engineering and a no-nonsense approach to the cost of doing business. But dos Santos’ acquisitive instincts have gone well beyond the oil industry, which now accounts for 98 per cent of Angola’s exports and 75 per cent of government revenues. During and after the civil war he cornered control of several natural resource industries as well as other emerging companies.

To its credit, the MPLA retains a strong strand of anti-authoritarianism. In a fit of revolutionary pique a few years ago the Angolan Parliament passed laws making it illegal for the president to have equity holdings in companies or organizations. Dos Santos did the sensible thing and swiftly transferred his assets to his daughter, Isabel.

She is undoubtedly a woman of talents – she has a degree in electrical engineering from King’s College in London – but her billing as Africa’s most successful businesswoman is only partly justified. Forbes figures she’s worth $US3 billion, and that most if not all that money came her way either directly or indirectly through her father. As former Angolan Prime Minister Marcolino Moco told Forbes a few years ago: “There is no doubt that it was the father who generated such a fortune.”

The supposition, of course, is that Isabel is holding the family fortune in trust for her father so that he has a safe and secure retirement. When that might be, however, is anyone’s guess. In 2001, Eduardo dos Santos did say that he would step down soon, but it never happened. And in March this year he said he would retire in 2018, after elections due to be held next year. However, given his past equivocation on this subject, no one is holding their breath.

More than that, he is being purposefully obtuse about who his successor might be. Speculation has focused on Manuel Vicente, the state oil company boss who became vice-president, then to dos Santos’ son Jose Filomeno, and most recently to his daughter Isabel.

With Isabel’s appointment a few days ago to oversee the restructuring of the state oil company Sonangol, her name has leapt to the fore. In essence, she now heads the Angolan economy.

Sonangol needs restructuring because so much has been looted out of its treasurer chest that the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has been called in to cast its magic over Angola’s debt problems. Last year the dos Santos government borrowed $US10 billion — $US6 billion from China – just to fund health, water, electricity and road projects.

When the IMF first got involved in 2012 one of the first questions that turned up in Sonangol’s books was a missing $US32 billion, equivalent to a quarter of Angola’s entire gross domestic product. Well, thankfully, the IMF was able to put minds at rest by deciding that the missing oil money was linked to “quasi-fiscal operations.” Apparently this means money that Sonangol spent on the government’s behalf, but which didn’t get recorded in the official accounts. That’s all right then.

Yet there is reason to question whether dos Santos will try to make Isabel head of the MPLA and Angola’s head of state. She has little party political experience and, like most organizations with revolutionary Marxist backgrounds, the MPLA doesn’t like having people foisted on it who have not fought and bled on the frontlines. Also, Angola remains a strongly patriarchal society where the concept of a woman leader has not yet permeated the political culture.

So Isabel’s role will probably be to look after daddy’s pile and coming to terms with the disappointment that there’s no Mo Ibrahim Foundation prize in her future either.

Copyright Jonathan Manthorpe 2016

Contact: jonathan.manthorpe@gmail.com. Please address queries about syndication/republishing this column to jonathan.manthorpe@gmail.com

Further information:

Mo Ibrahim Foundation

Related on F&O:

Hissène Habré: a pivotal case for international justice in Africa.  By Pierre Hazan  Analysis

On May 30, in an African court, history was made. In an unprecedented move, a former president was convicted of human rights abuses by a foreign court. In another historic ruling, the accused was also sentenced on counts of sexual abuse and the rape of a prisoner. The conviction of Chad’s former dictator, Hissène Habré, comes at a crucial time for international justice in Africa.


Manthorpe B&WJonathan Manthorpe is a founding columnist with Facts and Opinions and is the author of the journal’s International Affairs column. He is the author of “Forbidden Nation: A History of Taiwan,” and has been a foreign correspondent and international affairs columnist for nearly 40 years. Manthorpe’s  nomadic career began in the late 1970s as European Bureau Chief for The Toronto Star, the job that took Ernest Hemingway to Europe in the 1920s. In the mid-1980s Manthorpe became European Correspondent for Southam News. In the following years Manthorpe was sent by Southam News, the internal news agency for Canada’s largest group of metropolitan daily newspapers, to be the correspondent in Africa and then Asia. Between postings Manthorpe spent a few years based in Ottawa focusing on intelligence and military affairs, and the United Nations. Since 1998 Manthorpe has been based in Vancouver, but has travelled frequently on assignment to Asia, Europe and Latin America.


Real journalism is not free. If you value evidence-based, non-partisan, spam-free information, please support Facts and Opinions, an employee-owned collaboration of professional journalists.  Details here.


F&O’s CONTENTS page is updated each Saturday. Sign up for emailed announcements of new work on our free FRONTLINES blog; find evidence-based reporting in Reports; commentary, analysis and creative non-fiction in OPINION-FEATURES; and image galleries in PHOTO-ESSAYS. If you value journalism please support F&O, and tell others about us.


Posted in Also tagged , |

In a world of youthful leaders, gerontocracies rule Africa

By Stephen Chan, SOAS, University of London
September 19, 2014

There are many African presidents whose age far outstrips that of their peers on other continents. David Cameron (47), Barack Obama (53), François Hollande (60), Merkel (60), Vladimir Putin (61) – these are striplings compared with the gerontocrats of Africa. Even the Chinese, long committed to respect for the old and wise and venerable, now seemingly have a commitment to presidential and politiburo appointments under the age of 60.


Robert Mugabe, 90, is a creature of constant rejuvenations, writes Stephen Chan. Photo by Tech. Sgt. Jeremy Lock, United States Air Force

I was reminded of this stark contrast by billboards in Harare, Zimbabwe, where I spent much of the northern summer. They bore a picture of Robert Mugabe, who celebrated his 90th birthday while I was there in February, emblazoned with the slogan: “With age comes wisdom”. The picture was of Mugabe in his 60s.

The Mugabe of 90 is, notwithstanding, a creature of constant rejuvenations. His repeated visits to Singapore for medical treatment of an eye complaint seem also to add a spring to his step that is remarkable for a nonagenarian.

Indeed, at the recent Southern African Development Community summit at Victoria Falls, colleague presidents made two common remarks: that he chaired the summit with amazing vigour, and that his mind seemed to think in terms of a bygone age.

The current president of Tanzania, for example, reportedly took exception to a remark that nothing in his country has equalled the era of Julius Nyerere, who ruled from 1961 to 1985 and died in 1999.

The rumours of Mugabe’s ill health are just that, rumours. For now, he appears robust and able to give the lie to predictions of (or wishes for) his imminent demise. But with age inevitably comes speculation related to health – and the track record of previous aged African Presidents is not encouragement.

Right now, Zambia’s 77-year-old president Michael Sata is probably seriously ill, and has scarcely been seen in public for months – notwithstanding a carefully-staged recent reappearance, framed by orchestrated (or archive) footage of him chairing cabinet meetings. While he struggles with his health, his party, and even his long-time lieutenants, are locked in a vicious struggle to succeed him.

Zambian leader Michael Sata. Photo courtesy of the Commonwealth Secretariat

Zambian leader Michael Sata. Photo courtesy of the Commonwealth Secretariat

The piquancy here is that Sata’s vice president, Guy Scott, is a white man, and ordinarily, under the constitution, should succeed in the event of the president’s death. But because of a constitutional amendment brought in 1996 to prevent Kenneth Kaunda, with Malawian parentage, from running again, Scott cannot be president because his parents were not born in Zambia.

Zambia’s succession crisis has also therefore become a constitutional crisis – and all the while, the official machinery insists the president is alive and well.

This is not new; it happened before in Zambia when president Levy Mwanawasa was fatally ill – a fact both explicitly denied and hidden from the voting public.

It happened in Nigeria when president Umaru Yar-Ardua was fatally ill, but all was officially denied. His death was compounded by Yar-Ardua’s choice of a “harmless” vice president – who became the hapless president Goodluck Jonathan.

It happened too in Ethiopia, when the death of prime minister Meles Yenawi was hidden from the public – though in this case, the succession of his deputy Hailemariam Desalegn was hammered out behind closed doors with decisiveness, and later, with a show of public solidarity.

All this raises obvious questions. Why wait until presidents and prime ministers are so old and sick they die in office? And in a world of youthful premiers, why the glut of aged, even moribund leaders?

And above all, the inescapable problem: if wisdom really comes with age, Africa’s assorted gerontocracies are governed surprisingly unwisely.

The ConversationCreative Commons

Stephen Chan, Professor of World Politics at SOAS, University of London, does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


Facts and Opinions is a boutique for slow journalism, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is sustained entirely by readers: we do not carry advertising or solicit donations from foundations or causes.  Why? We appreciate, and rely on, your interest and support:  for $2.95 (the price of a cheap brew) you can subscribe to F&O for a month. If that breaks your budget, a one-day pass is $1. A subscription is required for most F&O original work. Subscribe for free to Frontlines by entering your address in the form on the right of this page (we won’t share your address), or follow us on Facebook or Twitter.

Posted in Also tagged , , |