“There is not a single country on the African continent where democracy is firmly consolidated and secure” – Larry Diamond

Source: Fred Moon (Unsplash)

The optimism washed in by the third wave of democracy has seen a receding tide and with it a gradual decay of democratic institutions. Across the continent, we are forced to uncouple the terms ‘democracy’ from ‘freedom’ and ‘democratic institutions’. Whilst many African countries continue to uphold the mirage of an electoral democracy, it takes a tiny effort to find that democratic institutions are in decay and liberties encroached upon. 

Although a democracy hinges on the power of the ballot through which societies can select their leaders according to manifesto’s and policies, the real lifeblood of a democracy depends on the extent to which elected leaders carry out the will of the people. It is through assessing the quality of democratic institutions that we see the continent’s democratic recession. 

Freedom House found that 22 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) have seen declines in freedom between 2019 and 2020. Notwithstanding this, the demand for democracy remains strong, confirmed by Afrobarometer (a Pan-African series of public opinion surveys on democracy, governance and society) which found that 68% of Africans prefer democracy to any other type of governance system. Unfortunately, this demand is met with a poor supply of democracy with only 51% of Africans under the impression that their respective countries are a complete democracy or a democracy with only minor problems. This infers that Africans are receiving less democracy than desired, perhaps fuelling ‘the paradox of voting’. Which implies that for the self-interested reasonable voter, the cost of voting surpasses the expected benefits of voting. Naturally, this leads to questions of voter turnout and general political participation. 

South Africa, considered to be one of Africa’s strongest democracies, has seen a significant decrease in voter turnout during its 2019 general election and consequently high levels of voter despondency. The South African Reconciliation Barometer (SARB), a public opinion survey run by the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation (IJR), found in its 2019 survey, that 56% of South Africans felt that their vote does not make a difference. Alongside this sentiment is that almost two out of three (63%) South Africans believe that their vote is meaningless because they cannot trust the politicians in power. The Afrobarometer weighs in on trust deficits in South Africa and across the continent. It was found that in 2016/2018, 58% of South Africans did not trust their president ‘at all’ or trusted him ‘just a little’ compared to the 28% in 2005/2006. Distrust at a local level was even more dismal in 2016/2018 at 65%, but increasing from a higher 51% in the 2005/2006 survey round. 

Paralleling this trust deficit is the continental outlook, with 43% of Africans distrusting their President in 2016/2018, compared to a smaller 32% in 2005/2006. Similarly, 50% of Africans in 2016/2018 did not trust their local government organ in line with 2005/2006 where 40% of Africans distrusted local government. 

Voter despondency and trust deficits not only point to a democratic recession, but also lead to Africans looking for alternate options, possibly out of desperation. 

Alongside the deterioration of the quality of African democracies is the progressively reduced performance of established democracies (such as the United States), to positively promote strong democratic institutions abroad. The recent trend of established democracies turning inward with populations preferring strongman populist leaders, leaves room for certain unsavoury African leaders to operate with greater impunity. In essence, this allows African leaders to act less democratic and more authoritarian, which serves as a contributing factor encouraging them to pursue state capture, repress protests and undermine elections. 

While this unfolds across the continent, a new narrative is taking hold as a different player gains increasing geopolitical influence. The ‘China model’ of development before democracy brings with it, the promise of Africa ‘catching up’ with advanced economies. We have witnessed repeatedly throughout history many instances of growth under authoritarian regimes that have been short-lived and unsustainable. 

In South Africa we saw this with the limited potential of growth under the Apartheid regime. Looking eastward, growth stagnated under the institutions of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) where incentives were insufficient to motivate broad segments of society into productivity. Dating further back, the fall of the Roman Empire, under extractive institutions experienced economic growth that truthfully only enriched a handful of elites before the ultimate decline of its Empire – gradually favouring a concentration of power over representation or pluralism. 

Human and technological progress requires a certain level of freedom, secure property rights and incentives without these, economic growth will be both unequal and finite. 

Apart from this, the ‘China Model’ also requires a nuanced consideration of context. China not only had to experiment with its economic model before it achieved the growth it has achieved today, but it also had to consider demographic characteristics that are unique to its country. These include considerations such as population size and density which have proven to be important.

With the largest population known to any one state, China is home to 1.4 billion people, of which 40% live in rural outposts. This compares to the SSA’s population of 1.3 billion people spread across 46 countries, with 59% of the population residing in rural areas. The varied diversity of cultures, languages and religions also renders the SSA demographically divergent from China.

Furthermore, the sheer sophistication of the Chinese surveillance state (subject to its own controversy) cannot, with any doubt, be adopted by a single African country. Governments simply do not have the funds or capacity to adopt and implement surveillance.  

In parallel, leap-frogging under authoritarian rule remains an elusive dream for development as internet access remains altogether one of the lowest in the world, with less than 40% internet penetration on the continent. 

In light of these essential considerations, development before democracy is not fit for purpose on a continent with little political integrity and government capacity. Yet the question remains, as the tide of democracy recedes in Africa, ‘where to from here?’

Although the answer may not yet be clear, we can certainly take a lesson from democracies that have strengthened over time, whereby one commonality emerges – pluralism.

As African leaders increasingly undermine democratic institutions, civil society must fervently demand more representation, more inclusion and less elitism. Networks of insulated power perpetuate democratic decay and dwindling political participation. A stronger focus of what happens between elections is indispensable. In tandem with growing trust deficits is the mounting need for stronger and more enthusiastic pushes for accountability. Democratic institutions must ensure that African governments and leaders respond the call of the people, honour their promises and realise the urgent need to restore the dignity of institutions. 

Building and strengthening inclusive pluralistic political institutions that promote inclusive development will put Africa on a path of restoration. Ultimately renewing the integrity and meaningfulness of democracy on the continent, perhaps bringing with it a tide of hope for Africans. 

Jaynisha Patel is a project officer at the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation (IJR). She has an MPhil in Politics, Philosophy and Economics and her current work focuses on inclusive development in post-conflict states in Africa at the IJR.


Source: Daniel Bernard (Unsplash)

When the Khmer Rouge came to power in 1975, it embarked on a mission to bring happiness and prosperity to Cambodia faster than any of its competitors (Locard, 2005: 121). Yet, nearly 45 years later, Cambodia remains one of the least developed nations in East Asia, suffering from corruption, inequality, and poverty. This post, with a focus on corruption and natural resources, will discuss the legacy of the Khmer Rouge for the development of Cambodia’s political economy. I argue that the regime’s legacy has been to weaken the state apparatus to the extent that patron-client politics is deeply embedded; allowing the elite to misuse natural resources in order to build power and wealth. At the same time, the Khmer Rouge’s destruction of private property and the judicial system has made it easier for elites to take resources from the public and use them to pursue their own private goals. This has led to an increase in inequality, keeping rural areas in a state of poverty.

Cambodia: Past and Present

Cambodia was put under French protectorate in 1863 and French colonial rule persisted until independence in 1953. The Cambodian colonial experience proved to be economically disastrous, leaving the country with weak infrastructure and ‘no modern industry of importance’ (Ear, 1995: 36). In understanding Cambodia’s underdevelopment, Khieu Samphan, a future leader of the Khmer Rouge, wrote a thesis utilising Marxist theory. For Samphan, Cambodia’s underdevelopment stemmed from the nation having been integrated into the world economy simply to provide cheap labour (Samphan, 1976: 3). The French had distorted the economy, with the introduction of foreign goods discouraging craftsmen and stunting the expansion of national capitalism (Samphan, 1976: 13). This consigned most of Cambodia’s population to agricultural production, with peasants under the exploitative control of feudal landlords (Samphan, 1976:16). The only way to overcome such underdevelopment would be to pursue development outside of the global capitalist system, and build rural industry by curbing the power of landowners and fundamentally altering the economic system (Samphan, 1976: 4).

Following decades of conflict and a period of aerial bombardment by the United States, the Khmer Rouge came to power in 1975. The regime’s goal was to return Cambodia to ‘year-zero’ and ‘transform it into an agrarian utopia’ (Brinkley, 2009: 111) where people would work for the common good and ensure that the country was self-reliant. To this end, the Khmer Rouge ruled through terror and violence. The urban populations were forcibly evacuated from their homes and sent to the countryside to work in agricultural communes (Strangio, 2014: 2). All private property ownership was abolished, with land and resources collectivised. The entire Cambodian educational system and the majority of school infrastructure was destroyed, replaced by a new system ‘dedicated to larger social goals’ (Clayton, 1998: 8). It was not only the educational system that was dismantled but also anything that ‘smacked of capitalism…or class oppression’ (Hinton, 2014:149) including the media, legal system, and money.

The aim of forming a nation around a new communist and ideological structure prompted the Khmer Rouge to execute those who resisted or held counter-revolutionary thoughts and memories (Hinton, 2014: 151). Educated individuals, such as skilled workers, elites and teachers were especially targeted due to their exposure to western ideas (Jackson, 1989: 9) and the potential opposition that they could raise which would jeopardise the success of the regime. The violence was widespread and by the time the Khmer Rouge were displaced by the Vietnamese invasion in 1979, they had caused 2.2 to 2.8 million excess deaths (de Walque, 2007: 223), although estimates vary on the number of lives lost. Pol-Pot’s repressive regime, aimed at creating an egalitarian society, therefore had a huge impact on both the institutions and the people of Cambodia.

Modern-day Cambodia has made progress, with Hun Sen, who has ruled since 1985, bringing peace and stability to the nation (Strangio, 2014: xv). Since liberalising its economy in 1989, Cambodia has achieved impressive growth figures, attaining an average economic growth rate of 7.6% in 1994-2015, reducing poverty from 47.8% in 2007 to 13.5% in 2015 and obtaining lower-middle income status in 2015 (World Bank, 2017). However, despite these successes, many problems persist in Cambodia. Corruption is endemic, with the nation rated as the most corrupt in Southeast Asia; this makes Cambodia less attractive to businesses and causes large distortions in the economy (Keo, 2013). The country is also heavily dependent upon foreign donor aid, with as much as 50% of the national budget sourced from international aid packages (Haakansson, 2011: 14). Further, whilst poverty has officially fallen, child mortality and inequality in Cambodia continue to rise (Ear, 2007: 76). The rural areas, where up to 90% of the population live (Strangio, 2014: 140), continue to rely heavily on subsistence farming, with little access to running water and sanitation. Low development levels continue to affect many people, with 21% of the population living below the poverty line and 56% living in ‘vulnerable poverty’ (Nathan, 2014).

Of particular interest for the purpose of this essay is the issue of corruption. Indeed, it has been argued that for many natural-resource rich nations in Africa, corrupt practices by the elite have prevented countries from breaking the cycle of underdevelopment (Awojobi, 2014). Many similarities can be drawn with the case of Cambodia. The following sections explore the Khmer Rouge’s legacy in weakening the state apparatus and facilitating a corrupt elite who misuse the nation’s natural resources, create inequalities and stunt development.

Patronage, Corruption and Natural Resources

Following the fall of the Khmer Rouge in 1979, the incoming government, the PRK, faced many hurdles in trying to rebuild the state. The Khmer Rouge had left very little behind in terms of state infrastructure, creating a highly fragmented country where villages were isolated from central government (Kent, 2007: 336). Similarly, the elimination of the majority of the skilled sector, especially civil servants, had ‘erased a national memory of how government worked’ (Smith, 2007: 38). This weak state infrastructure was coupled with the fact that much of the citizenry no longer trusted the state as a provider of security and development, following the breakdown of social order experienced under the Khmer Rouge (Öjendal & Lilja, 2009: 1). Indeed, the violence persisted as the Khmer Rouge continued to operate from their strongholds in the north and fought against the newly installed government (Biddulph, 2014: 876).

The lack of a functioning administration allowed patronage to become ‘the logic of Cambodian governance’ (Smith, 2007: 89); a mode of governance in which individuals of high economic status (Patrons) use their influence and resources to provide protection and benefits to a person of lower status (Client) who reciprocates by providing support and assistance to the patron (Scott, 1977: 125). Such Patron-client relationships developed in the early 1980’s as the PRK, headed by Hun Sen, set out to rebuild the state and gain cooperation to underpin their position. Here, party and administrative positions were given to clients who adhered to patronage, creating a network of ministries and administrative bodies based upon patron-client relationships (Un, 2006: 229). Many of these ministers and bureaucrats had no prior experience in running state departments and, in a post-conflict environment where many were faced with poverty, prioritised distributing positions to their family and friends (Gottesman, 2003: 51). Further, loyalty was built among officials ‘by permitting them to enrich themselves through the exploitation of resources at their disposal, such as land…and timber’ (Verver & Dahles, 2014: 52). This created a system in which government officials were able to use their roles to extract vast amounts of revenue, through activities such as logging, in return for loyalty to the party (Milne et al, 2015: 39). At the same time, natural resources were used to achieve peace and build alliances with opposing factions, with the Khmer Rouge leadership promised control over their economic interests, such as mining and forestry, in return for loyalty to Phnom Penh (Biddulph, 2014: 877).

The liberalisation of the Cambodian economy in 1989 provided greater opportunities for state officials to enrich themselves through the privatisation of land and leasing of property (Milne et al, 2015: 31). Here, the political elite have been able to use their political resources to territorialise forested land and grant concessions to extractive industries who are engaged in large-scale production of goods such as timber and rubber (Padwe, 2017: 139). In return, businesses provide financial support to the ruling party, contributing to their ‘growing hegemony over Cambodian society’ (Verver & Dahles, 2014: 63). The granting of such concessions represents a highly corrupt practice, with the authorisation and implementation of concessions often deviating from established legal and policy frameworks (Diepart & Schoeberger, 2017: 163). The result is a more deeply entrenched patronage network, which has seen power and wealth increasingly concentrated into the hands of Hun Sen, who provides the umbrella under which officials and businesses extract huge benefits from the destruction of the nation’s natural resources (Petersson, 2017: 25).

The corrupt nature of Cambodia’s patronage network has largely been facilitated by the weak state apparatus left by the Khmer Rouge. Particularly important is the ‘absence of independent and well-functioning bureaucracies that regulate politicians’ access to public resources’ (Bustikova & Corduneanu-Huci, 2017: 281). Here, the civil service and governing bodies remain weak as the removal of skilled individuals and physical infrastructure by the Khmer Rouge continues to haunt the state apparatus. Key bodies such as the National Assembly lack the capacity to exercise their oversight powers and hold officials to account (Un & So, 2009: 125); a problem also evident with the state bodies responsible for overseeing concessions, where a lack of human and financial resources has made it ‘virtually impossible’ to control concessionaries on the ground, resulting in widespread exploitation of timber (Diepart & Schoenberger, 2017: 160).

Further, the tax and budget systems, which were dismantled in 1975, are of terrible quality (Un & So, 2009: 125). The absence of an effective system to generate and manage state revenue means that the state apparatus is denied the capital that it requires to develop, whilst also making it easier for government departments to disguise illegal activities (Smith, 2007: 53). At the same time, the weak tax system also results in a heavily underpaid civil service (Locard, 2005: 136). As a result, civil servants and officials working in lower levels of bureaucracy often accept bribes and engage in petty corruption in order to supplement their salaries, which only support bare subsistence (Le Billon, 2000: 791). In many cases, people working in administrative bodies are fully incorporated into the patronage system; this is evident in the Forestry Administration which oversees the regulation of Cambodia’s forests. Here, people were required to buy their positions within the administration and engage in extracting both legal and illegal revenues from logging activities in order to keep their positions (Smith, 2007: 55).

Similar issues are also evident with the judiciary, which had been dismantled and left in disarray by the Khmer Rouge (Petersson, 2017: 21). Here, the killing of educated individuals had an especially pronounced effect, leaving only a handful of lawyers to write a new constitution and rebuild the entire judicial system (Hughes, 2003: 20). The judiciary remains very weak and is unable to effectively perform its role of providing checks and balances, making sure that officials act within the legislative framework (Un & So, 2009: 126). The absence of an effective judiciary allows patronage and corruption to run rampant with officials never held to account. Further, the appointment of judges is highly politicised and forms part of the patronage network, with most judges paying for their posts and basing their decisions on the interests of the powerful in order to maintain their jobs and security (Un, 2006: 232). This enables the elite to protect their clients who are engaged in destructive practices such as illegal logging (Smith, 2007: 39).

The examples of state administrators and the judicial system show how deeply embedded the Cambodian patronage network is. The absence of strong and independent bureaucracies, as a direct result of the Khmer Rouge’s policies, has allowed the ruling elite to build an extensive patron-client network which extends throughout the body of the state, making the ‘state apparatus largely dependent on and indistinguishable from the ruling party’ (Verver & Dahles, 2015: 52). This deeply embedded network, funded by the exploitation of the nation’s natural resources, undermines any attempts to strengthen and rebuild the weak state apparatus, with institutions created simply to ‘service the interests of patron-clientism’ (Un, 2006: 230). Such a deeply embedded patronage network appears to be almost impossible to dismantle due to the fact that it supports the interests and needs of so many in Cambodian society (Varkkey, 2015: 114).

Property Rights

Corruption and the misuse of land and natural resources is further facilitated by the Khmer Rouge’s lasting effects on land rights. During the collectivisation process, the regime completely destroyed land ownership records along with the institutions that govern property rights (Un & So, 2011: 291). As a result, the Cambodian citizenry has inherited a very weak system of property rights which provides meagre security in terms of land tenure. This weak system enables the elite to grab land from citizens and grant concessions to large businesses, legitimizing their actions by claiming that the occupants are ‘squatters’ who are illegally inhabiting the land; claims which are difficult to oppose because land registration has not been successfully implemented (Schneider, 2010: 52). Similarly, the lack of an effective accounting system to manage public and state property (Gottesman, 2003: 321) has made it easier for officials to misuse Cambodia’s land for personal gain. This was evidenced in 2017 when the head of a provincial department sold a piece of state-owned land for $62,000 profit by taking advantage of the weak land registration system (Chheng, 2017). A legacy of the Khmer Rouge has therefore been to substantially weaken Cambodia’s system of property rights, benefitting elites and leaving 80% of rural households without a secure land title (Hughes, 2008: 71).

Attempts to overcome the issue of land rights are proving difficult within the state infrastructure. Firstly, laws such as the 2001 Land Law, which ‘envisaged the establishment of private land titling’ (Diepart & Dupuis, 2014: 456) and limited the expropriation of land only to those cases where it was in the public’s interest (Haakansson, 2011: 9) have proved futile. This is because, as discussed earlier, the judicial system remains weak in the wake of the Khmer Rouge period and has been absorbed into the patronage network, thus weakening the enforcement of new laws. At the same time, the severe lack of human and technical resources for land registration (So, 2011: 146) has made it very difficult for the state to effectively implement a system of property ownership. The courts often fail to settle land disputes in a fair manner and do not offer equal protection to each citizen. Instead, people seek protection from powerful individuals rather than utilising the legal system (So, 2011: 160); this further supports the system of patronage and makes land tenure reliant on how much money a person can mobilise to support their claims to property (So, 2011: 160). The actions of the Khmer Rouge therefore continue to reverberate around the state apparatus, playing a part in blocking land ownership reforms.

Effects on Development and Inequality

The effects of a corrupt elite, operating through patron-client networks and taking advantage of the weak state apparatus, have been substantial. These practices have led to large inequalities and continuing rural poverty. The grabbing of land has led to large disparities in land holdings, with the top 10% owning 64% of the land (Strangio, 2014: 183) whilst 20% of rural households are landless (Hughes & Un, 2011: 10) and thousands of families continue to be evicted from their homes. This issue of landlessness is the key component in rural poverty, as underdevelopment is increasingly concentrated in the countryside (Rudi et al, 2014: 565). Further, the substantial number of logging concessions granted has seen wealth flow into the pockets of the elite and large foreign businesses whilst denying the rural population access to non-timber forest goods which are crucial in sustaining their livelihoods (Un & So, 2009: 129). Corruption and the weakness of land tenure have therefore served to increase inequality and keep the rural population in a state of poverty.

Further, the legacy of the Khmer Rouge continues to hamper development and block improvements in living standards (Turner, 2013: 279). The lack of secure property rights discourages both domestic and foreign investors which negatively affects growth (Hughes & Un, 2011: 14). Here, a more secure set of property rights would be especially beneficial to rural citizens, allowing farmers better access to credit and providing incentives to invest in agriculture, thus increasing rural productivity and creating more equitable development within Cambodia (Rudi et al, 2014: 571). Similarly, the corrupt nature of the patron-client network denies the state a huge amount of revenue. In the case of forestry, only $120 million of the $2.4 billion worth of timber exported between 1989 and 2001 flowed into the national treasury (Diepart & Schoenberger, 2017: 160). Such large amounts of money could be used to address some of the systemic issues that continue to stunt the countries development, such as the poor education system which continues to struggle in the wake of the Khmer Rouge’s destructive policies (Locard, 2005: 137). This also denies funds to support the removal of landmines planted by the Khmer Rouge; deadly weapons which can destroy the lives of rural citizens if they become disabled and are unable to provide the labour which is so crucial to agrarian livelihoods (Asia Watch Committee, 1991).


This post has sought to discuss the legacy of the Khmer Rouge for the development of Cambodia’s political economy. Indeed, the legacy of the Khmer Rouge continues to be felt in modern-day Cambodia, through its destructive effects on the state apparatus. When the regime was removed in 1979, Pol-pot left behind an administrative vacuum, having dismantled key apparatus such as the judiciary and tax systems, as well as killing a vast majority of the nation’s skilled and educated individuals. The absence of independent and well-functioning bureaucracies has enabled the current ruling elite to create a deeply embedded and corrupt patronage network which feeds off the nation’s natural resources. These corrupt actions are further facilitated by the weakness of Cambodia’s property right systems and land laws, which enable the powerful to grab land and resources from the rural poor in order to enrich themselves and build greater support for their government. This has created huge inequalities within Cambodian society, with businesses and elites enriching themselves through activities such as logging, whilst the rural poor are left behind to watch their livelihoods disappear.

Matthew Smylie holds an MA in International Political Economy from the University of Warwick and a bachelors degree in Politics, Philosophy and Economics from Warwick. He is incredibly passionate about IPE issues. Matthew runs his own website The Political Economist, check it out :


Source: Damir Spanic (Unsplash)

Established in 1921, the South African Reserve Bank (SARB) is the central bank of the Republic of South Africa. The bank’s mandate places it as the authority overseeing the country’s sustainable economic growth; a mandate which it must be allowed to pursue “independently and without fear, favour or prejudice”. The SARB is one of only a handful of central or reserve banks in the world which is privately owned; alongside those of countries such as Belgium, Greece, Italy and Switzerland. The issue of the bank’s ownership has become increasingly contentious in recent years as the ruling African National Congress (ANC) and another prominent political party, the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), have raised calls for the SARB to be nationalised. In a global economic system where the majority of central banks are owned and operated by the government, the SARB is something of an anomaly; but as the old adage suggests: If it isn’t broken, why fix it?

If one were to picture the economy of a country as a human body, its heart and circulatory system would be the nation’s central bank. Central banks are responsible for the issuing and the circulation of money in an economy, in an effort to keep the “body” healthy and functioning at its optimal capacity; these are the institutions which keep economies from collapsing in on themselves. The bank’s legal monopoly on the issuing of banknotes and cash, plays a vital role in the economy of our country which means the nationalisation debate is not something which can be taken lightly. The history of the concept of a national bank can largely be traced back to one of the American Founding Father, Alexander Hamilton. In 1781 he wrote, “in a National Bank alone we can find the ingredients to constitute a wholesome, solid, and beneficial paper credit”. Hamilton designed the Bank of the United States to sit at the very centre of the American financial system; the influence of this policy has since spread to an increasing proportion of the globe. 

The ANC was presented with a once-off opportunity to nationalise the Reserve Bank during the transition from Apartheid to democracy but opted to keep the bank independently owned. This decision seems to be coming back to haunt them as they wade through the muddy waters of the nationalisation debate. There seems to be widespread agreement that the central bank’s independence is of the utmost importance and that the most successful banks are those with the least political involvement. 

The draft bill proposed to parliament by the EFF would see the state becoming the sole holder of shares in the reserve bank, a stark contrast to the current ownership structure where over 600 shareholders, a combination of individuals, companies and commercial banks, stake a claim to the bank. The current ownership structure does allow for government to purchase shares in the bank although they are bound to the same stipulations as any other shareholder (they are allowed to purchase a maximum of 10 000 shares which translates to a maximum of 200 votes). The Minister of Finance would act as a shareholder in the bank and exercise the rights associated with his or her position. Finally, the draft bill places the responsibility of appointing the Governor, Deputy Governor and all other directors of the bank upon the President (in consultation with the Minister of Finance). Fuelled by the perception that the shareholders hold control over the bank and the belief that the Reserve Bank should belong to the people of South Africa, the ANC has begun pursuing the nationalisation of the bank in earnest. There are factions within the ruling party which view the SARB as an obstacle to their plans of radical transformation within the financial services sector. 

The overarching argument of the ANC seems to be that nationalisation is necessary to bring the SARB in line with how the majority of other central banks are operating. Advocates point to countries like New Zealand and Austria as examples; the first and most recent countries to nationalise their central banks respectively. What these individuals seem to overlook is the stark contrast which exists between the economy of South Africa and the economies of those states which have successfully nationalised their reserve banks. One cannot ignore the differences between the specialised financial sector of a European nation like Austria and the emerging market economy of South Africa; especially when it comes to a decision which would have severe economic ramifications. 

Many of the arguments against nationalisation boil down to issues of government accountability, examples from recent history, and the transparency of the current reserve bank structure and governance. The possibility exists that, once the government becomes the sole shareholder the reserve bank would be reduced to a sort of personal piggy bank for those with access to its coffers. South Africa’s ever-present threat of corruption undermines any potential advantages nationalisation could have to offer; evidence of the government’s lack of accountability has been recently demonstrated in the multiple scandals surrounding misappropriation of COVID-19 relief funds. The hyperinflation crises in our northern neighbour of Zimbabwe and South American ally Venezuela should be enough to caution South Africa against tinkering with a reserve bank which is working well. The SARB’s current private ownership structure allows for a large degree of transparency to the extent that it ranks as one of the best central banks in the world for its transparency and accountability mechanisms. Current shareholders are permitted to ask questions and help hold the bank’s management and board to account. Nationalising the SARB and leaving it in the control of an ill-equipped government is likely to shatter confidence in an institution which has previously been known to be above politics. 

Within the discipline of International Political Economy (IPE), we have been taught to always consider Cui Bono – who benefits? An objective approach to nationalisation must take this critical question into consideration. The decision of whether or not to nationalise should rest on certain tests: Will it increase citizen’s power over their own fates? Does nationalisation enable the entity to perform its service to the nation better and more economically? Does it lead to a more equal standard of living? The answers to these questions should form the basis of the decision to nationalise or not, because the answers to these questions are indicative of whether or not nationalisation would best serve the people of South Africa. 

The dual challenge in the political economy is to create wealth and then distribute this wealth productively, equitably and fairly. Having intimate knowledge of South African governance in recent years, citizens of this country cannot be certain that the government is capable of successfully mitigating this challenge and until it is guaranteed that a government-owned reserve bank is competent enough to distribute the wealth, the question of nationalisation should be taken off the table. 

Kendra Connock is a third-year student at the University of Pretoria, studying International Relations and Criminology. Her areas of interest are where these two seemingly divergent fields meet, specifically issues of international illicit trade and crimes of a political and economic nature. 


Source: Gordon Johnson (Pixabay)

Human rights are integral for every single individual in the world irrespective of race, gender and age. These rights are based on shared values such as equality, respect and the protection of human ethical norms. Human rights in Africa, however, have been a contentious discourse when assessing the events such as; colonialism, the Rwandan genocide and the South African Apartheid regime just to mention a few. With this history in mind, human rights in Africa have been violated to the extent that African organisations have been established to safeguard citizens of member states from potential repetition of human rights violations. These organisations include the African Union (AU) and Southern African Development Communities (SADC). 

The AU and SADC have designated organs to address conflict and human rights violations respectively. An organ such as the Peace and Security Council (PSC) which is the decision-making body of the AU is for the prevention, management and resolution of conflicts. It is set to facilitate timely and efficient responses to conflict and crises in Africa. Additionally, SADC developed the Mutual Defense Pact (MDP) which provides a legal framework set to enhance collaborative defense cooperation to deal with issues ranging from aggression of a member state to cooperation in the field of joint training and information sharing. The MDP focuses on issues of conflict resolution, military preparation, collective self-defense and self-action, destabilising factors and the settlement of disputes. 

These organs were put in place to guarantee the realisation and protection of human rights at all costs. They have, however, failed in many African countries to realise what they were set out to do. This article is aimed at evaluating the role of these organisations in addressing the consistent violation of human rights in Zimbabwe. Although arguments of state sovereignty have been used against intervention, it is important to note the principle of sovereignty does not supersede the need to guarantee human rights.  At their most fundamental levels, the AU and SADC were established to serve the people of Africa and not the interests of member states. This article therefore suggests that the inaction of the AU and SADC is a matter of political will, which originates from heads of states that occupy positions in these organisations with unconscious biases and impartiality.

Article 4(h) of the constitutive act of the AU states that the AU has the power to intervene in a Member State if there is war crime, genocide or crimes against humanity and 4(j) states that member states have the right to request intervention from the Union to restore peace. Moreover, SADC states that intervention is possible in accordance to the Protocol on Politics, Defense and Security cooperation which allows for regional intervention in the case of intrastate conflict, but only for purposes of mediation not military assistance. While these protocols are in place, there is still a lack of implementation in matters which need intervention. This shows that the legal writing is not the issue but rather implementation. This is the case with the citizens of Zimbabwe who have been exposed to violations of their human rights for decades. 

Zimbabwe has a long history of human rights violations this started with the genocide of Ndebele’s from 1983 to 1987. It was then followed by the war in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) that Zimbabwe participated in for economic gain. This led to economic downturn which together with tribalism running rife and a decaying economy the gross violations of human rights continued through 1997-2000, with the implementation of land reform policies through violent land grabs that resulted in farm murders. Additionally, the violation of human rights heightened in 2002 and 2008 with state endorsing election violence which sought to intimidate people to vote for ZANU-PF and to stifle the opposition thus, eroding their constitutional democracy. In all the above mentioned, the AU and SADC failed to take or took little action to intervene for the people of Zimbabwe. 

After former President Robert Mugabe was removed from power in November 2017 and the instatement of President Emmerson Mnangagwa there was hope that Zimbabwe would be on a new path. His administration, however, is only an intensified continuation of Robert Mugabe’s “legacy” particularly with the recent anti-corruption protests. With the suppression of journalists, citizens and opposition leaders, the state under Mnangagwa has weaponised the rule of law against the people by arresting and torturing those with dissenting views. Such a violation is condemned in the African Charter for Human Rights, in particular Article 6 and Article 14 which Zimbabwe signed and ratified. The signature and ratification of member states is an acknowledgement of consequences for contraventions. The AU and SADC have remained silent and have not sought any intervention as yet. This is the continuation of their trend of inaction.

It is evident that President of South Africa, Cyril Ramaposa, the chairperson of the AU and President Hage Geingob of Namibia as chairperson of SADC have remained silent and have not exhibited any plans to intervene. Even with states, such as the US, sanctioning President Mnangagwa and businesses with ties to alleged corruption in light of this, the AU and SADC is still quiet and absent in speaking up and taking action. These leaders are protecting state security, fellow elites and sovereignty rather than fulfilling the objectives of the organisations which are promoting human rights and freedoms for citizens in Africa. The protection of sovereignty is seen by how ineffective these organisations have been when it comes to regional peacekeeping. The AU and SADC allow leaders to have too much room for unconscious biases and impartiality based on personal and national interests. This dominates peacekeeping as their laws provide way for actions but, leaders are not putting these laws in place. This essentially leads to inaction which is bound to affect the citizens. 

The inaction of the AU and SADC is a contributing factor to the failing of states in Africa. In trying to uphold the principle of sovereignty they are compromising the safety and standard of living of Africans which is contrary to the ethos of these organisations. The AU and SADC need to break their silence and take the necessary steps to intervene in Zimbabwe’s matter, as it is what they are set out to do and is what the citizens need. They need to send a message to the Zimbabwean government that they cannot go against these organs without any consequences.

Sinazo Zulu is 20 years old and matriculated at Sutherland High School in Pretoria. She is currently studying the degree BAdmin Public Management and International Relations at the University of Pretoria. She plans to further her studies in International Relations.  


Source: Markus Spiske (Unsplash)

The COVID-19 pandemic has seen some of the biggest developments and changes in the world, drastically affecting the way in which we understand life. The pandemic has dealt its cards, regardless of who the players are or how high the stakes have been raised. Governments have reacted with unprecedented vigour owing to the scale of this pandemic, pumping out trillions of dollars to assist businesses, prop up state-owned enterprises staring ruin in the face and has made grand donations to assist healthcare facilities. None of these actions seem to be misguided in the greater sense as they all serve to keep the world functioning quasi-normally in this period of uncertainty. The question is then, if governments, one of the largest economic stakeholders in the world are able to adapt so quickly to a disease threatening everyday life, why are they not able to equally address the bigger threat to human life, the continued destruction of our planet?

Discussions about protecting the planet, preventing climate change and promoting sustainable development have been on the table since the 1960’s and has seen the gradual development of protocols and programs to implement a ‘greener’ outlook in all facets of life. This presents the first of the critiques-from the outset, targets have always been implemented in an ‘attempt-and-see-how-far-we-have-come’ manner and not under the ‘utmost-of-importance’ conditions. The progress that has been made can be argued to exist mainly on paper and in discussion forums.

It took 40 years for 191 nations to finally decide that this should be tackled with a united front when the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were signed in 2000 and when these weren’t achieved, they were replaced by the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in 2016. States have adopted numerous policies and standardisation procedures to ensure engagement on the subject, ranging from the Paris Agreement to Carbon Tax Bills and Cap-and-Trade schemes. The problems with most of these, being that policies and pledges undertaken aren’t strong enough and thus haven’t enforced the action needed. It has worsened with uncooperative parties such as the United States (US) and Russia, two of the largest producers of carbon emissions. 

With weak global governance on this front and the costly effects that these policies have on states, it’s no wonder that governments have tended to place environmental protection at the bottom of the to-do list. With average government expenditure only reaching 106 billion Euro’s for 2018, the second smallest with economic affairs having 5 times that for the continent that has made the biggest developments in achieving the SDGs. This presents the second critique, even fiscally the environment and its heavy suitcase full of overlapping issues, which affect each of the SDGs has to take a backseat.

Developing countries also have a responsibility in this regard, but have shown equally bleak responses to this climate crisis. South Africa having signed many policies and agreements, including implementing Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA’s), has made minimal progress. As an economic leader in the continent, it provides the worst example by continuing to build coal-fired power plants.  

This continued underwhelming attempt by states worldwide has prompted scientists to release a report addressing the citizens of the world to push for greater efficacy and action from governments. According to this report nearly 75% of countries’ pledges made to the year 2030 earmarked for increased sustainable development were unsatisfactory. This highlights the third critique which focuses itself on the always-lacking products of countries’ efforts to tackle climate change, which has also been affected by the types of language used in climate policies. Like ‘guidelines’ giving the effect of vagueness and ambiguity which suggests objectives and not concrete goals. This has led to 11,000 scientists urging drastic action to turn global emissions down to zero by the year 2050. 

Since governments have historically had a bad track record continuously implementing policies with minimal output, placing monetary focus on businesses and economic growth and showing subpar interests in achieving set standards for climate action. There is a necessity for civil society to play a greater role. This does not mean that the responsibility should be shouldered by one group more than another, just that the intensity from both sides needs to be mutual.

The theoretical field of International Political Economy (IPE) has also contributed to this field and one particular theory, Everyday IPE, has shed light on the crucial effect individual actions have on all facets of society. It makes the assertion that our daily actions (what we do, how we spend our money and which actions we support) leave indelible consequences which affect political, social and economic areas of life. What this means then, that not only increased civic participation is needed in issues of environmental protection but that increased awareness of individual responsibility is needed in order to affect change. Awareness needs to spread to infiltrate all levels of society from the global to the national, to the local and ultimately into the individual sphere. It needs to be implemented in homes and markets and taught in schools. It needs to embed itself deeper into the fields of architecture, arts, engineering and governance. It needs to be the headline of news and in advertisements on a permanent basis, not periodically when natural disaster strikes.

What governments need to realise is that talking climate action and signing policies with weak implementation is not enough anymore and has not been enough for the past two decades. Strong arguments have been made that our current carbon economy is not only the root of many political, social and economic failures but it also has increased the likelihood of further pandemics and outbreaks. Further developing the current economy would therefore mean a conscious acceptance of increased inequality, poverty, disorder and environmental degradation. As such, it makes absolutely no sense to believe that the economic governance of the international system will be able to keep the planet alive on its current trajectory. During the chaos wrought by this pandemic, we have the opportunity to reorganise the way society functions and to realign our priorities as a global community. If stimulating the economy to produce better development and better living standards for each individual is what heads of state want, then logic would tell them that transitioning to a green future, not a ‘greener’ one, is the only acceptable way to go.

Rogene van Tonder is a third-year student working towards a degree in a Bachelor of Political Sciences: International Relations. She is also a tutor in the French Department at the University of Pretoria and has a keen interest on merging these two fields in a career of diplomacy or foreign relations development in the domain of languages.  


Source: Ethan Mcarthur

The COVID-19 pandemic has extraordinarily and distinctively impacted various economic sectors and markets in significant and possibly irreversible ways. It has exploited numerous vulnerabilities within the global economy that have the potential to destabilise the volatile global system. A comprehensive demonstration of the acute implications of the pandemic is in the energy industry, particularly the oil sector which is currently in an alarming crisis as it is facing a economic shock. Oil, the largest commodity market in the world, is trading at negative prices meaning sellers are prepared to pay a buyer more to attain the oil. Moreover, with the sector’s value shrinking so greatly, it has become the second smallest segment in the S&P 500 Index. This index is considered to be one of the best representatives of the United States’ (US) stock market, measuring the performance of 500 large companies listed on the US stock exchanges. The oil sector’s weighting is historically down 80% as there are no oil companies in S&P’s Top 10 with the industry’s weighting below 3%. The industry’s executives fear that they are at a risk of disappearing as they are doubtful of whether the industry will ever regain investors post-COVID-19. Through discussion on the implications that COVID-19 has on global economies, it is apparent that the system is in need of transformative policies and strategies that can withstand pandemics.

The global economy, battered by the pandemic, is facing weakened external balances, substantial outflows of portfolio capital, falling commodity prices and depreciating exchange rates. Consequentially, various economies are unable to service their debt due to financial constraints. This fragility and volatility of the economy was exacerbated by the oil crisis which was triggered in April 2020, by the overflow of unsellable oil causing the collapse in oil prices. The overflow of oil formed the aftermath of the price war and the breakdown of trade discussions between Russia and Saudi Arabia in March 2020, which led to Russia refusing to limit production. Saudi Arabia was forced to double down, dumping oil at discounted prices in the global markets. This creates a massive surplus of oil, fundamentally altering the balance between demand and supply. Although Russia, Saudi Arabia and the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) have attempted to restore balance through an agreement on production restriction, the overhang of supply still has significant implications.

Moreover, the decline in commodity price is especially alarming for the commodity-dependent economies in Sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America as they earn more than 80% of their export revenue from commodities. The oil dependent markets are particularly concerning as the fragile, recovering economies of countries such as Algeria, Angola, and Nigeria are struggling to maintain their fiscal balance with the commodity trading at negative prices. Evidently, a vulnerability within these economies is highlighted by the relationship between extreme commodity dependency and high levels of government debt which is further strained by the COVID-19 pandemic. Majority of these commodity exporters may not be able to roll over their debt, emphasising the significant challenge that debt sustainability is challenging the stability of the global economy. 

In addition to this, these economies which need to sustain measures implemented to contain the pandemic, are slipping into a destabilising debt crisis as it is unlikely that the commodity prices will rebound quickly. Countries forming part of Gulf states such as Bahrain and Oman are on the verge of detrimental financial crises. The former relies on Saudi Arabia for financial support, whilst the latter’s government debt is heavily discounted. Furthermore, Saudi Arabia’s fiscal crisis has resulted in the Kingdom enforcing problematic policies domestically, which may trigger political upheaval, in an attempt to cope with the COVID-19 recession. The increasing influence of multilateral organisations such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) are becoming a critical financing source of short-term emergency assistance for energy exporters. Majority of Emerging Markets Economies (EMEs), however, such as Argentina, India, Turkey and South Africa see this crisis as beneficial. A larger portion of EMEs’ imports are imported fuel, subsequently, cheaper fuel will largely cushion the strain of the COVID-19 recession on these economies. Moreover, the decline in oil prices has the capacity to potentially shift the balance of economic power in favour of EMEs. 

The International Energy Agency (IEA) and the energy ministers of the G20 met in April 2020 to discuss initiatives to mitigate the implications of the oil crisis and stabilise the market. China, India, South Korea and the US have either offered temporary storage facilities to store the surplus or are taking advantage of the low prices by increasing their stocks. The slowing of production and the dwindling of the surplus of supply will hopefully shift the market into a deficit for the remainder of 2020 thus, returning it to normalcy. The IEA is cautiously optimistic that demand will begin to exceed supply, however, this is largely based on logistical speculation and a broad assumption, as the pandemic continues to pose a significant challenge.

Although low oil prices are normally attractive to consumers, they are hardly beneficial to billions of individuals currently living under COVID-19 lockdowns. These low prices also influence the livelihoods of people employed along the massive oil Global Value Chain (GVC). The lockdowns, restricting movement, are resulting in the declination of activity in the transportation sector, lowering the demand for energy. The global oil demand’s growth over the past decade has been erased as it fell by 9.3 million barrels a day since the start of the pandemic. Emphasis on how low priced oil is threatening the stability of the entire economic order questions the functioning of the global economy when it is focused in the energy markets.

The oil crisis has resulted in the industry being characterised by volatility, fragility and uncertainty with demand becoming its dictator. Given the current state of the market, a possible demand shock is looming in the future as there are greater advances in the strategies for a decarbonising future. Oil companies are truly at risk of becoming obsolete, lest they develop new ways of attracting investments to offset natural energy production and stimulate growth. The industry also needs to develop technology for clean/ renewable energy which may be difficult, given the reduced financial resources. Major companies such as Shell, British Petroleum (BP) and Respol are already pressurised by their investors in Climate Action 100+ to transition towards a low-carbon future. BP has already begun transforming into an integrated energy company in order to attract more investors. The imminent transformation of the oil sector will have a substantial effect on the global economy, altering it in an unprecedented nature. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has exploited various weaknesses in the global economy, especially in the energy industry. It has destabilised the balances of power, shifting it from producers to consumers, diminishing the world’s largest commodity market. Countries are pushing for energy transitions and the use of renewables in a post-pandemic world. This highlights the urgency within oil companies to transform and develop diversification policies. The pandemic has resulted in energy-exporting countries plunging deeper into recession, slowly slipping into debt crises. It has exposed global economies’ dependency on the energy market emphasising the lack of policies designed to manage the vast repercussions of macroeconomic changes in a pandemic. The oil crisis has demonstrated the destabilised and uncertain COVID-19 global economy which is extremely vulnerable and in need of strategies that, simultaneously manage economic crises and a pandemic. Although the oil markets seem to be recovering, the global economy is still greatly exposed to the acute implications of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Shanley Webb is a final year student in the degree Bachelor of Arts: Political Science/International Studies at the University of Pretoria. She also plans on pursing a law degree next year and aspires to work on humanitarian issues in the future.


Image: Tim Mossholder (Unsplash)

Gender Based Violence (GBV) has plagued South African homes and communities for years. The perpetuation of rape culture and female fear has infiltrated every corner of the country causing unprecedented rape statistics and femicide rates but, the damage does not stop there. GBV has far reaching effects on the country’s economy which drastically impacts the country’s ability to prosper. This article hopes to shed light on some of these seldomly discussed consequences in order to truly understand the complexity of issues GBV poses to the development of South Africa. Perhaps, if one considered the true impact of GBV on various sectors and aspects of South African development there would be an increased desire to create holistic and sustainable solutions.

GBV costs the South African government an estimated 1.3% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per year. This results in the wastage of billions of Rands which could be used to uplift and empower vulnerable South Africans into becoming earners, producers, suppliers and innovators. The drain placed on the healthcare system by GBV is commonly known and understood, but there are several other consequences of this scourge which place equal, if not even greater, pressure on the already struggling economy.

In 1998 South Africa was named the Rape capital of the world. Whilst this grim statistic sheds light on the utterly unimaginable trauma experienced by around 30% of South African women, it also casts a bleak future for the South African Tourism industry. Stories of malicious gang rapes, sexual harassment claims against police men and many other shocking, yet surprisingly frequent incidents play a large role in deterring foreign visitors from spending money in the once bustling tourism destination that is the “Rainbow Nation”. Ultimately, as long as the streets of South Africa are notoriously unsafe for local women to walk, potential tourists are unlikely to take the risk, no matter how beautiful the sunsets. From this perspective GBV is likely costing the country billions in potential tourism income by contributing to soaring statistics of violent crime. 

GBV costs the South African government billions of revenue in health care, social services and the justice sectors. Not only do GBV victims generally require urgent medical and psychological aid but they are also likely to require long term treatment of Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STD) such as HIV and Aids. Furthermore, children born as a product of rape are likely to place increased pressure on social services agencies because they are unplanned, unwanted and therefore often born into families with inadequate financial positions to have children. The diversion of money and other resources to hospitals, courts and social service agencies means less money to be used in educational institutions which have the potential to uplift and empower impoverished individuals. Considering the complexity of the above mentioned factors, it is difficult to fully comprehend the inevitable economic drain caused by GBV in South Africa. 

In addition to this, GBV also costs the South African economy billions of Rands in terms of possible economic growth. As mentioned above, the use of resources to treat symptoms and outcomes of GBV could likely produce unlimited economic growth if invested in more productive sectors such as, those aimed at women empowerment and educational programmes. Although GBV affects all genders and sexes, women bare the overwhelming brunt of it. In many South African households women are either exploited or manipulated by their intimate partners economically. From a young age, many South African women are groomed by older relatives or close family friends to perform sexual acts for money whilst others are prevented from obtaining financial independence from abusive intimate partners. In this sense, it is evident that GBV prevents many South African women from reaching their full economic potential and therefore drastically impairs the economic prosperity of the country.

Considering the physical and psychological toll of GBV on South African women it is unsurprising that women often miss more days of work than men which further jeopardizes their economic security and chances of economic prosperity. Millions of women are victims of constant sexual harassment within the workplace which derails their productivity and often causes long term psychological trauma.

Barack Obama, former president of the United States of America, famously said that the prosperity of a country is dependent on the way it treats its women, if this holds true then South Africa’s future remains unbelievably bleak. If we as South Africans have become so desensitised to the current femicide taking place within our borders then understanding the true economic cost of this violent scourge may be the only tool left to motivate change within our society.

Christina van Straten is a third-year student at the University of Pretoria. She is studying a Bachelor of Social Science in Industrial Sociology and Labour Relations, majoring in; Sociology, International Relations and History. Christina hopes to pursue a career in social development within the United Nations. She is particularly passionate about issues relating to gender inequality in Africa. 


Image: Mana5280 (Unsplash)

In today’s modern interconnected world, a tin of baked beans has the ability to travel to almost any part of the world with little to no restrictions, whereas humans are still subjected to some form of restriction of movement. How is it possible that inanimate objects have more freedom than humans do? The European migrant crisis which started in late 2014 has seen over 1 000 000 people arrive in Europe, mainly undocumented migrants from North Africa, Syria and Yemen. Another 350 000 have lost their lives attempting to migrate via the Mediterranean sea. These people have fled their countries for various political, economic and social reasons for a better life in Europe. In light of such an exodus of people into Europe, the migrant crisis has fueled debates all across Europe regarding the nature of borders and immigration policies. Additionally, the rise of Donald Trump in the United States of America (USA) and far-right political movements like AFD (Alternative for Germany), National Rally (France) and Party for Freedom (Netherlands) gaining prominence in Europe has further catalysed debates about borders and border controls.

Borders have long existed in various informal and formal forms with different applications throughout history. These barriers to freedom of movement have dramatically increased in the last 100 years. The ability to move freely and migrate from one part of the world, regardless of the reason, has been a major part of human history. Many major empires like the Roman’s, were dependent on migration to grow their economies and human capital. There are mainly two types of borders these are political and geographical. The political border is the traditional and most dominant one which exists as a result of human agency and the state creation process as per the Peace of Westphalia in 1648. The state is a nonphysical juridical entity which has sovereignty over a geographical area and control of the people within this area.

The second type of border is a geographical one. Historically it has been the most common type of border, prior to 1648 and the 1933 Montevideo Convention on Statehood, geographical borders refer to natural objects which create obstacles for human interaction. These include oceans, rivers, forests and mountain ranges. Political borders are often formalised around geographical borders, for example the Amazon rainforest is a natural border which separates Brazil, Colombia, Venezuela, Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana. It, therefore, made sense for the political borders to follow these same demarcations. In some cases, however, geographical borders do not inform political borders and can override this formation such as, the Turin Mountain ranges in the north of Italy. Most of the mountain ranges occupy the north of Italy and borders with France and Switzerland, however Italy’s borders include a large part of the mountain. Historically during the Roman Empire, the Turin Mountain was seen as a border to protect the empire from the North, from foreign invasions. As we can see by this identification, borders in the modern political sense are highly subjective and are as a result of policymakers of the state machinery. Political borders establishe the “us” and “them” narrative, who is to be included in the sovereign state and who is to be excluded. Historically, political borders have also included religious, cultural and linguistic elements in the creation of such borders. This aims to represent and encompass a group of people to a sovereign state with a “specific identity”. By linking identity to the state, the state is able to exert a certain amount of control and influence on its citizens.

In the formalisation process of these political borders policymakers make geopolitical and economic calculations in the demarcation of its borders, for example the world’s youngest state, South Sudan, its political borders are formed along the lines of demarcation based on religion. The borders of South Sudan was established to create a territory for the predominantly Christian indigenous Nilotic people. As a result of colonialism some of the world’s political borders (majority in the developing world) have not been created through geographical or political means but instead, some were imposed such as the Scramble for Africa. The Scramble for Africa was when colonial powers divided Africa into various groupings with little or no regard for informal borders or traditional internal migration of indigenous Africans. Some of today’s modern conflict zones in Africa are as a result of imposed borders by colonial powers with little to no regard for the identities of local African communities. Research on various intra-state African conflicts like the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), the Central African Republic (CAR) and Sudan have highlighted that the forced groupings of people together, with different identities are but one of the reasons for continued conflict in these states.

Linked to borders is the idea of human movement and restriction of it. Human migration is as ancient as humankind itself. The ancient Greek and Byzantine empires all encouraged migration, as this would bring new skilled workers and they would contribute to taxes and armies. The constant migration of new human capital was vital to the economic development of these ancient empires and therefore, it was encouraged. There have been numerous times in history when the movement of humans was encouraged with little to no restrictions, such as the early renaissance periods of the 14th and 15th century, as well as the late 17th and 18th century when states needed to increase populations of their states as a result of the various wars. Most notably, immigration to the USA in the late 1900s was massively popular with over an estimated 4.5 million people leaving Europe in search of the “American Dream”. That being said, there have also been attempts to limit movement throughout human history depending on the situation. The earliest restrictions were established under serfdom in the Roman Empire in the third and fourth centuries AD, these restrictions also established the earliest kind of passport control. This feudal system did not allow the movement of people if not granted by their lords. The first most modern attempt to establish passport control is accredited to England under King Henry V in 1414 who created a document to help identify British subjects living abroad in foreign lands. Additionally, the slave labour practices and establishment of colonies all over the world by European states established involuntary migration.

Most experts on border controls and migration, arguably, cite the 1920’s at its peak. In 1920, the idea of a worldwide passport standard emerged in the aftermath of the First World War, championed by the League of Nations (LoN). A year later, perhaps recognising a political opportunity, the USA passed the Emergency Quota Act of 1921 and later the Immigration Act of 1924 limiting the inflow of immigrants. The emergency? Too many newcomers from countries deemed a threat to the idea of American identity and extra pressure on the American economy. So how would the USA identify an immigrant’s country of origin? By a newly minted passport. The establishment of the passport in the 1920s and exportation of it through the LoN and later the United Nations (UN) has helped solidify human migration control with our identities linked to a passport. In today’s modern world it is impossible to travel without a passport.

Two critical ideas to highlight out of all of these points, firstly borders are as a result of human agencies, we create them, we decide who is in and who is out. By defining our territory, we establish the state’s human capital and what natural resources the state might have. Wars and various conflicts around the world are continuously fought over disputed border demarcations, essentially the border helps you to claim what is “yours”. An interesting piece of information to consider is the flexibility of borders and that of google maps. Google Maps are often seen as the “de-facto authority” on maps, as the UN’s Cartographic and Geospatial Information body (UNCGIB) is severely underfunded and only meets once every 4 years. States depend on Google Maps to help identify and reaffirm borders, as in the case of South Sudan and Kosovo when google helped determine the border area. As mentioned, however, borders are controversial and some times vary for different states. For example, accessing Google Maps from China will show all the disputed territories of Bhutan and India being a part of China, whereas if you access Google Maps from India, the map will look different. This highlights the political nature of borders, human agency and how fluid borders are.

the second critical idea to highlight is that passports and restriction of movement is a political choice which restricts or encourages economic choices. The massive influx of people, together with economic and social conditions lead to the creation of the passport in the 1920s in the USA. The passports helped further entrench the “us” and “them” narrative by establishing who your people are, this way the state knows who it is responsible for and who it is not responsible for. The passport, much like borders, is highly fluid and is a tool of human agency, and can be used to give you a strategic advantage or disadvantage in the world. A British citizen, for example, can travel to 164 states without any restrictions (Visa) whereas as a Zimbabwean can only travel to 68 states which may hinder that person’s ability to prosper economically if they chose to migrate. This is an extremely unfair process, you cannot chose where you are born. Why should someone who is born in worn-torn Syria not be allowed to migrate for a better life?

It is also important to remember that a passport from a specific nation does not always imply that the owner of such passport, identifies with that nation-state. There are various loopholes such as investments in developed states to earn citizenship and black market passports which can help alter your “identity”. An investment of 500 000 Euros in Portugal or 1.5 million Euros in Cyprus, for example, will guarantee you EU citizenship. An investment in London of over 5 million pounds will guarantee you a special investor visa. On the other hand, a black market passport for the EU or the USA will cost you over $15 000. This demonstrates how fluid the concept of identity and borders can be to certain people within a society.

As for those who deemed borders necessary, it is often rooted in one of two reasons. The first being national security of the state and her people. Borders are vital to maintaining the security and safety of the state and her people from threats like terrorism and conflict. This especially holds true for areas with high conflict around disputed borders such as India and Pakistan or borders which are known for transnational organised crime activities such as the borders between USA and Mexico. These security threats may hinder economic prosperity. The ability of the state to protect its territorial integrity remains within the realm of the state and its national security. By liberalising the borders completely you would weaken some of its national security and reduce the importance of the state. The second reason for pro-border support is the ability of the state to maintain the “identity” of her people. This links to earlier historical debates on borders and how borders are important to constituting a state’s national identity. These are often societies which are either highly homogenous or wish not to pursue ideals of a multicultural society or these are states wishing to protect certain economic aspects of their economy. Strict border controls like in the 1920s and more recently through the migrant crisis, are often argued through the rationale of protecting the state’s identify from outsiders, ensuring economic stability and dispelling the idea of multiculturalism.

The restriction of movement through the establishment of passports is highly controversial and can be seen as a counter-movement in light of the modern globalisation process. The control of human movements has continuously ebbed and flowed throughout history, from no control to a lot of control and is very much dependent on the political and economic conditions of that time. In conclusion, formal and informal borders have long existed, however, the way in which modern borders and restriction of human movement are applied is very much rooted in discriminatory practices which institutionalise the “us” and “them” narrative. If we are to move to a more peaceful, tolerant and prosperous global community then we need to rethink borders.

Jervin Naidoo is the founder of The Art of Politics and works as a lecturer and researcher in the Department of Politics Science at the University of Pretoria.


Image: Fred Moon (Unsplash)

The African continent has seen an increasing number of violent extremist and terrorist attacks in this decade, mostly focused in Somalia, the Sahel, the Lake Chad Basin and recently, northern Mozambique. Addressing violent events perpetrated by Islamist militant groups, the Africa Centre for Strategic Studies (ACSS) indicates an increase from 693 in 2011 to more than 4,000 this year (2020), setting a new record for the continent. While the United Nations (UN) recognises the connection between terrorism and violent extremism, the organisation adapted the MINUSMA (United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali) mandate to act as a counterterrorist mission. No robust attempt has been made in the remaining regions, therefore, the scenario described above reveals that the UN efforts are insufficient to deal with extremist-related violence and terrorism. Additionally, when assessing the African Union (AU), the Regional Economic Communities (REC) and their military branches, African countries have lost trust in the ability of their own regional and continental organisations to guarantee their security.

Along these lines, the most affected countries are developing regional coalitions to tackle these issues, such as the G5 Sahel Joint Force and the Multinational Joint Task Force (MJTF) . These ad hoc military arrangements indicate a worthwhile alternative to traditional peacekeeping, once they focus on subsidiarity and African autonomy, as well as encourage security alliances to deal with common problems. Nevertheless, lessons from the long-lasting AMISOM (African Union Mission to Somalia) and the current status of those new alliances have to be assessed as the goal of containing the spread and neutralising terrorist and extremist groups seem distant.

Combating terrorism regionally

The MJTF is responsible for combating Boko Haram in the Lake Chad Basin. Composed by Benin, Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria, the MJTF has deployed around 8,000 troops and has been achieving significant successes since it was reformed in 2015. While promoting cross-border cooperation, the joint operations were fundamental to contain the spread of the terrorist group and split it into minor factions, alongside the rescue of captured civilians and facilitating the delivery of humanitarian aid. The environment in which the 5,000 troops of the 2017-born G5 Sahel Joint Force operates in, is considerably different. While fighting at least twenty active groups, Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger find themselves in a heavily crowded security field and have been cooperating with MINUSMA and the French Barkhane Operation.

The MJTF and the G5 Sahel Joint Force, although achieving important results, have had similar setbacks. While fighting the extremist and terrorist groups, the two coalitions have been unable to deal with the groups’ resilience, which constantly act through ambushes such as asymmetrical warfare (Guerrilla tactics) and the ability to remain highly mobile. They have a strong presence in marginalised regions and communities, where these groups provide basic services, yet also incite inter-communal violence and profit from links with criminal networks. Internally, coordination is constantly undermined by weak chains of command, different military doctrines, fragile judicial systems, poor equipment and training, lack of transparency and funding delays.

Military action can have only a limited impact in the absence of coherent political responses at the local, national and regional levels. The most critical problem within these coalitions is that they are embedded in a strict military approach lacking a well-built political framework to create sustainable peace in areas affected by violence. Regarding the MJTF, the political component called the Lake Chad Basin Commission ought to be responsible for coordinating efforts with the AU and donors but, it has been neglected by the member countries and remains with fewer resources and a minor influence in peace-building. As for the G5 Sahel Joint Force, it was envisaged as a small civilian component which would report to the force commander, emphasising the military response in detriment of a political one and the last summit – which had France as the protagonist – reinforced the hard-security doctrine instead of focusing on development and accountable leadership.

Some insights into how these coalitions should and should not act against extremists and terrorists can be taken from AMISOM. Despite being an AU mission with a multiplicity of international partners, the warfare against the Al-Shabab is mostly composed by troops – which have been up to 20,000 – from Sierra Leone and East African countries, namely Burundi, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda. Based on AMISOM, such distribution made the contributing countries willing to commit considerable resources and endure significant setbacks, including a large number of casualties. They also undermined local support for the mission, intensify conflicts over governance in Somalia’s south-central regions and do not always follow the force commander’s orders. Misconducts such as backing preferred politicians and engaging in illicit trading should be avoided by the new regional coalitions. The necessity of targeting combat capabilities of terrorist groups instead of focusing on territorial gains is important to the support of local communities which is essential to the peace process.

Perspectives regarding the future

As it is clear from the aforementioned overview, the creation of regional coalitions to combat extremism and terrorism is urgent however, remains full of problems. Looking forward, the main analyses points out the necessity of better governance and accountability, observance of human rights, incrementation of military and political capacity and focus on development to achieve sustainable peace. Some key issues related to these aspects need greater assessment.

Firstly, the states involved in these peace efforts must make better use of their partners. Especially in the Sahel region closer cooperation with the MINUSMA, Operation Barkhane and European Union (EU) missions, can improve capacities on counterterrorism. Regarding MINUSMA, the contribution of high numbers of troops by Chad, Burkina Faso and Niger can provide vital expertise. The successful security reforms in Mauritania over the last decade can serve as an example from inside the G5 on how to combat extremism and terrorism.

Additionally, as the extremist and terrorist acts are spreading to coastal states, two specific countries Benin and Côte d’Ivoire, must make the choice of improving their security capacity and cooperation with those coalitions or remain hostages to terrorism. Benin despite being a member of the MJTF, has done very little to support it. While Côte d’Ivoire has been improving its counterterrorism strategy by closely cooperating with France and with the creation of a military zone alongside the borders with Burkina Faso and Mali. As both states already face the terror threat, the appropriate way aims to develop a stronger security component whether in cooperation with regional coalitions or not.

Finally, the recent rise of extremist and terrorist attacks in northern Mozambique has caught Africa’s attention. Officials from the Southern African Development Community (SADC) member countries agreed on providing military support to combat the Ahlu Sunnah Wal Jama group in Mozambique, but without mentioning a regional intervention. If the threat persists and spreads to the entire country, Mozambique will probably be in need of external assistance and the best approach would be to contain extremism and terrorism before it crosses borders, as has occurred in the situations of the Sahel, Lake Chad Basin and Somalia.

Lucas Serra is an undergraduate student in International Relations at the University of Brasilia. He is interested in themes such as Conflict Resolution, Peace Studies, South Atlantic Security and Brazil-Africa Relations.


Image: Max Bender (Unsplash)


Fuelled by conflict, Yemen faces the largest humanitarian crisis in the world, with more than 24 million people (some 80% of the population) in need of humanitarian assistance, including more than 12 million children. In March 2015, armed conflict escalated and the country has become a living hell for its citizens. 

The five-year war has led to the loss of livelihood, leaving the citizens of Yemen displaced and under attack. This unfortunate situation is worsened by the widespread famine that has been present for years on end.  The number of malnourished children is estimated to reach 2.4 million by the end of the year, accounting for a 20% increase from previous years. With the arrival and spread of COVID-19, the country is ravaged with a new emergency on top of an emergency fueling the fears of how an already dire humanitarian crisis could deteriorate.

War in Yemen: 

Separatist movements in the north and south of Yemen has fuelled what is known as one of the greatest preventable disasters facing humanity. Established in May 1990, as a product of the reunification of the Yemen Arab Republic (North Yemen) and the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen (South Yemen), the country has been characterised by ongoing conflict sparked by opposition movements such as the Joint Meeting Parties (JMP). The JMP formed as an unlikely opposition coalition of six parties, including Islah and the Yemeni Socialist Party. Separatist views in the south have been shared since reunification, culminating in what has been years of armed conflict between northern and southern political parties in Yemen. 

Following years of what has been a civil war and the events of the Arab Spring Uprising in 2011, the Yemeni dictator, Ali Abdullah Saleh was forced to hand over his power to his deputy, Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi. After the overthrowing of Saleh, the Saudi Arabia-led armed conflict began on 26 March 2015, driving the country into a humanitarian crisis. 

Impact of the war in Yemen:

Conflict in Yemen has displaced over four million people (along with nearly 1.7 million children), who have been forced to flee their homes and seek refuge in camps or improvised settings in parts of Yemen. Displacement, to a great extent, is due to war crimes and human rights abuses, including the Saudi-led coalition’s unlawful airstrikes on homes, schools, marketplaces and the Houthis’ undiscerning bombings of neighbourhoods.

In addition to this, children continue to be maimed and killed in conflict, leaving them in desperate need of humanitarian aid. UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund) reported that tens of thousands of children have died, both as a direct result of the conflict and from indirect causes such as malnutrition and diseases that stem from the lasting famine that has been present in the country for just over five years. Other impacts are profoundly seen in the economic and social status of Yemen. 

As a result of armed conflict the growth of trade and investment industries in Yemen have been hit hard by the crisis. Conflict for the most part reduces financial creation due to the destruction of profitable resources, diversion of resources and damage to human capital. This is seen in Yemen where war has essentially reduced the capabilities of the country to effectively and efficiently produce goods. Moreover, conflict has led to foreign direct investment (FDI) being withdrawn from Yemen, essentially leading it into an economic slump, furthering poverty and the famine issue the country is confronted with. 

Estimates have shown that more than 80% of Yemeni’s are living below the poverty line, amid an economic crisis marked by major inflation and soaring food prices. Between 80-90% of Yemen’s basic food supply is imported from overseas. With the escalation of conflict and withdrawal in investment, the country faces more hardship than before. 

COVID-19: The potentially deadlier foe than the war:

Five years on, Yemen has suffered through ongoing conflict and widespread famine. The country’s suffering, however, has not yet ended. With the arrival and spread of COVID-19, the country is ravaged with another emergency on top of an emergency, fueling the fears of how the humanitarian crisis could worsen. 

While many countries have been deeply affected by the novel coronavirus, Yemen is among the most vulnerable. Reasons include that the country is still at war, it is already anguished by the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, famine-stricken, being short in supply of water and sanitation, and its struggle to cope with diseases such as dengue fever, malaria and cholera. Other reasons are, that its health system has collapsed as a result of war, medic themselves are vulnerable and the actual number of cases is unknown due to the lack of testing kits and of transparency in data from the rebels and government.

The United Nations (UN) head of operations in Yemen, Lise Grande, says that Yemen faces the most dreadful outcome imaginable. The loss of life from the pandemic could exceed the combined toll of war, disease and hunger over the last five years in Yemen. To date, Yemen has reported 1763 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and its death toll stands at 508 fatalities. These figures suggest that due to the issues faced by Yemen the number of confirmed cases potentially does not reflect the actual number of cases mainly, due to the lack testing capacity in the country.

The future of Yemen: 

The future of Yemen is indeterminate. Studies have shown that if conflict continues, the cost in mortality, especially children, will increase. A scenario that assumes reduced conflict intensity relative to 2018, but continued large-scale violence through to 2022 estimates that conflict will account for 482,000 deaths, 331 000 deaths of children under the age of 5 and 49.4% of the population living in extreme poverty. Yemen would have lost 181 billion USD in economic output. Over five years of conflict in Yemen has turned millions of lives into a nightmare. Human right violations, death, injury and widespread famine are daily risks for many. The longer the war rages on, the more likely consequences will echo further down the generations. As the country enters its sixth year of crisis, urgent humanitarian assistance is required. The Human Development Index (HDI) predicts that should conflict continue into 2030, the country will be set back by 40 years of development. While UNICEF and the UN work around the clock to bring comfort to the people of Yemen, a global call for action is needed. 

Nirvaly Mooloo is a final-year student at the University of Pretoria. She is an activist and feminist at heart. Her interests strongly lie in academic fields specialising in Politics and International Relations. Her dream is to one day be the leader that brings change to the livelihoods of others.