Is Tanzania’s ‘Bulldozer’ a threat to Democracy?

In November 2015, John Magufuli assumed office as the President of Tanzania, perpetuating the dominance of the Chama cha Mapinduzi (CCM) party who have been in power since the 1970s. At the time of his election most considered Magufuli to be representative of political continuity within Tanzania. Now, almost three years later, it is clear that Magufuli has disrupted the status quo.

The President has come to be known as ‘the Bulldozer’ for his unapologetic approach to tackling corruption and curtailing excessive spending within government. He gained this reputation right at the beginning of his presidency when he cancelled the usual opulent Independence Day celebrations. Instead, that money was redirected towards street cleaning. In the same way, he doubled down on excessive expenditure on ceremonies, meetings and travel of government officials and civil servants. He ensured that everyone was aware that being a government official was not synonymous with luxury or privilege and that fraud and corruption were not to be tolerated. This was achieved by tough measures and the dramatic firing of many civil servants. It has been reported that in his first three months as President, Magufuli fired an average of one civil servant a day.

‘The Bulldozer’ has shown his toughness in industry and economics too. He has drawn a hard-line by protecting and taking ownership of Tanzania’s resources. Most recently, a 24 kilometre wall with one secure entrance was erected around the tanzanite mines near Mount Kilimanjaro as a way to stop the smuggling of this precious stone. This is just one of Magufuli’s moves to regulate mining. He has gone head-to-head with foreign mining companies with the goal of gaining maximum profit from national resources. Magafuli’s main aims have been to improve efficiency across the board in Tanzania, to harness the nation’s wealth and to do so for the betterment of the country. He has enjoyed popularity and praise as a result of his hard-line response to these issues and many see this as a promising signal for a fairer and more prosperous future. The tough stance he has taken on issues such as corruption and excess has been applauded both by Tanzanians and the international community.

However, criticism has definitely been expressed by some, especially those who see his policies and conduct as aggressive. Most notably, Magufuli’s stance on democracy cannot be ignored, indeed it is in need of serious attention. He has stifled freedoms of expression. Those who have expressed political opposition or criticism have been subject to harassment, arrest and detention. Tundu Lissu, the leader of the opposition party and an open critic of Magufuli, was severely injured after being attacked in September of 2017. Opposition parties have been banned from holding public meetings and rallies. Both the press and the broadcast media have also been subject to the same threat. News outlets have been shut down for lengthy periods of time, journalists have been arrested and several have been reported missing.

This increased control over the public domain and freedoms of the people has been formalised. A new law signed in March 2018, the Electronic and Postal Communications (Online Content) Regulations, now demands an astronomic fee of over $900 for those wishing to publish online content in Tanzania. This includes bloggers, as well as those operating online radio and television services and impacts regular users of online domains and social media. Content considered to ‘cause annoyance’ or ‘public disorder’ will result in the revoking of these $900 licences. This is not just applicable to political topics; Diamond Platnumz, one of Tanzania’s most famous singers, was recently arrested for posting a video of him kissing a woman. He subsequently issued a public apology for such content. Freedoms within the public and private spheres are deteriorating in Tanzania and it is important that this is not ignored. These new constraints on democracy are dangerous and the rights of the Tanzanian people need to be upheld and respected.

Untangling Afghanistan: Proxy wars and geopolitical rivalries

Former Afghan president Hamid Karzai recently spoke in an interview of Afghanistan’s need for Russian support. Decrying the US for ‘killing us for 17 years’, he claimed that Russian support was the only means with which peace could be achieved in Afghanistan. The Afghan government is desperately trying to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table. The belief of some in Kabul is that the Taliban’s strength is reliant upon Pakistan and, with enough international pressure, Pakistan will withdraw its support. The US was originally supposed to provide this pressure. However, Karzai’s desire for non-US international support, born out of the US’ ruined reputation in the region, is well documented. Russia was not the first country he turned to. In 2017, Karzai attempted to reach out to India for support, suggesting that they replace the US as the military force upholding the Afghan government. He suggested that such action would be in India’s national interest, as it would damage Pakistan. Pakistan’s apparent support for the Taliban in Afghanistan is a permanent stumbling block when it comes to bettering Afghan-Pakistan relations. However, India’s military strength pales in comparison to that of the US. India does not have the means to replace the USA, and many in Afghanistan would regard any Indian intervention as suspect, India being regarded as part of the problem rather than part of the solution.  Indeed the core of the Afghan problem is regarded by many as the Indo-Pakistan proxy war being fought out on the streets of Kabul.

The problem with Afghanistan now turning to Russia is Russia’s apparent desire to improve relations with Pakistan. Relations between Russia and India have become strained recently due to burgeoning tensions between India and China. India’s response to these tensions has been to improve relations with the US, who are hoping India will effectively curb China’s influence. Russia has recognised that improved relations with Pakistan will, therefore, put pressure on India, improve relations with China and further antagonise the USA.

This leaves Afghanistan at a disadvantage. Officials in Kabul were celebrating news of Trump’s removal of two billion dollars in security aid to Pakistan, believing this would weaken the Afghanistan Taliban. A minority within Pakistan have blamed the Pakistan military for this, claiming that their tacit support for extremist groups has brought about this decision. Inevitably, Trump’s actions have increased street-level anti-US sentiment in Pakistan. It is therefore unlikely that such action will cause a change in Pakistan’s foreign policy. There is a tremendous fear within Pakistan of a ‘pincer’ move by Afghanistan and India. As a consequence, Pakistan’s actions regarding Afghanistan will always be motivated by the desire to ensure Pakistan’s security. Unfortunately, an unstable Afghanistan is more beneficial to Pakistan than a stabilised administration that is allied with India.

China has moved to improve Afghan-Pakistan relations by including Afghanistan in the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). CPEC is part of the Belt and Road initiative, China’s attempt to recreate the Silk Road. However, CPEC is already controversial due to its being built through Pakistan occupied Kashmir. India and Pakistan have constantly fought over the sovereignty of Kashmir, and India does not recognise Pakistan’s control of the Northern half of the state. By extending the offer to Afghanistan, China has faced India with the prospect of losing a regional ally to its economic rival.

Untangling all of these geopolitical relationships is an almost impossible task. If Afghanistan is to have any hope of achieving peace with the Taliban, then their relationship with Pakistan has to improve.  The level of mistrust between the two countries is a major hindrance to the process. As long as it continues, the Taliban will always have a potential ally in Pakistan.  Unfortunately, the mistrust is founded on the conflict between Pakistan and India.  Afghanistan plays a vital geopolitical role for both of these countries. Both are experiencing significant political tensions, not only with each other but with China and the USA as well. Until these issues are resolved, international support for a stable Afghanistan will continue to be deprioritised due to security concerns.

The need for objectivity and transparency in response to the Russian threat

Countries around the Western world have joined the UK in expelling Russian diplomats. Considering Russia’s actions since the 2014 Crimean annexation, this solidarity from the West is not surprising. Whilst the nerve agent attack has evidently provided the spark, there has been growing unease in the West concerning Russia’s behaviour. Russia’s foreign policy since 2014 has been aggressive, characterised by consistent interference in Western politics.

However, the West’s response has been weak-minded, cowardly and, as a consequence, has heightened tensions. This is not to suggest that the West should fight fire with fire and restart programs of brinkmanship, collusion and the dirty tactics that defined international relations in the 20th Century. Nevertheless, unsubstantiated allegations of partisanship partnered with a refusal to present transparent findings have prevented clear and untainted evidence of Russia’s actions from being published, allowing Russia to deny all allegations whilst continuing to be a sort of spectre looming over the west.

The current response to the attack in Salisbury is a perfect example. With little information other than the strong assumption that Russia was behind it, Russian diplomats across the world have been expelled. Investigations have not concluded and findings detailing the extent to which parties were involved have not been published. Reactionary rhetoric has been used over objective, procedural, unequivocal evidence. Russia can continue to deny their involvement. Russia remains a vague, unquantified threat.

There is a desperate need for transparency in the West to combat this growing threat. The major problem preventing Russia from being held accountable is that it is difficult for the public to truly know the extent of their involvement. Investigations have, understandably, needed to remain opaque in order to be successful. However,  investigations have been tainted by the politics of the country. Jeremy Corbyn’s rather innocuous claim that the investigation should be completed before any action was taken led to character assassinations from right across the British political spectrum. A similar situation occurred in the USA. Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russia’s involvement in the US election has devolved into an apparent war between the President and the intelligence services, preventing any findings from being considered in an objective and untainted way. With constant accusations of misinformation and partisanship, made with apparent ulterior motives, the institutions created to defend against such foreign attacks are being eroded into impotency. Investigations need to be allowed to continue without political rhetoric twisting them at every step. We need to see unequivocal evidence of Russia’s culpability.

The issue is compounded by allegations that Russia is making use of social media and data analysis in the USA (as well as conceivably in regard to the Brexit vote). Misinformation and targeted propaganda are the major stories of the day, and again, Russia’s involvement is assumed and alleged but not certified or explained. At the moment the argument revolves around statements like, “Our data has been taken by third parties” and these third parties have “influenced elections”. Such vague statements allow Russia to continue to deny and deflect criticism. Our elections have been affected by this data collation, but we are unsure how or to what extent. We need transparency, both from Facebook, regarding how they protect and distribute our data, and from the companies and organisations that use our data. Only with this level of transparency can the threat from Russia be detailed, realised and prevented. As it stands, this vague allegation that “Russia is meddling” fixes nothing and simply breeds further tension and distrust.

Corporate Responsibility in a World Without Barriers

Transnational corporations wield considerable power. In an increasingly globalized world, transnational corporations are powerhouses of economic growth and innovation both in the developed and developing world.  But this power has often gone unchecked, either by rent-seeking states or by corrupt international bodies that allow corporations to exploit the land, labour and natural resources of developing countries and have turned a blind eye to blatant violations of international law and in many cases, to the abuse of human rights.

Although there has been much discussion in the UN itself on how to regulate transnational corporations since the 1970s, the pace and scope of globalization has intensified, and with it the need for greater regulation.  There are now transnational corporations that are more powerful than the developing nations in which they operate and while they have generated economic development there, they have also sometimes generated dire social consequences. There are countless examples of transnational corporations exploiting cheap labour, draining water resources, dumping toxins and in some cases, even accusations of assassinations. This behaviour has often been conducted with impunity.

We believe that the UN plays a vital role in setting the standards for human rights recognition and compliance and has a duty of care to those affected by corporate abuse.

The inter-governmental working group has made significant headway in this sense and we commend its move away from voluntary rule-setting to a more legally binding instrument that safeguards human rights. We particularly commend its focus on justice for victims of corporate human rights abuses and the emphasis placed on corporate social responsibility in resolution 26/9 on the elaboration of an international legally binding instrument on transnational corporations.

However we feel that the adoption of the resolution does not have sufficient support in the highly developed home states of transnational corporations where their power is often concentrated.

Increasingly transnational corporations are becoming stateless, allowing them to conduct illicit activities with no accountability or transparency.  We believe the governments of the world must hold transnational corporations to account and ensure that the highest ethical standards are applied to their behaviour. We urge them to withhold contracts from those corporations that do not adopt proper policies in regard to their social responsibility and from those corporations that fail to examine and counter bad practice such as bribery and corporate capture within their own ranks.

Often corporations will adopt social responsibility policies as a simple marketing ploy rather than out of any sense of genuine morality.   We, therefore, call on the UN to hold these organizations to account. But more importantly, we urge corporations to adopt a business culture that fosters the values of tolerance, inclusivity and above all responsibility.  It is only in this way, that we can ensure human rights are extended to citizens everywhere and are abused nowhere. We believe that globalization should be a positive force that benefits the many, not an elite few.

The Islamic Republic of Iran as a Regional Power in 2018 and Beyond

Oral intervention to be given by the Next Century Foundation at the 37th Session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva. Item 4 SR on the 12th of March 2018, the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Mr President. The Next Century Foundation wishes to promote peace and security in the Middle East and calls on the regional powers to pursue these aims. The Islamic Republic of Iran is one such power that has the ability to drive regional change. Iran continues its pursuit of regional dominance in competition with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and this has an undoubted influence on the politics of the Middle East. Despite their rivalry and their precarious diplomatic relationship, the Next Century Foundation hopes and believes that the two powers can take progressive and peaceful steps towards reconciliation with one another. If they did so they could then actively work in cohesion to facilitate stability in surrounding nation states, such as the Syrian Arab Republic and the Republic of Yemen where civil war is still ongoing, and the Kingdom of Bahrain where tensions remain acute.

The Syrian Civil War has become an international conflict in which many nations have had some level of involvement. The Republic of Turkey, the United States of America, The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Russian Federation are all powers that have a presence in Syria. As a nation in such close proximity to the conflict, Iran has the potential to contribute significantly to the possibility of a peaceful future for Syria by working closely with other members of the international community, particularly their regional neighbours, in promoting security, stability and peace. It can lead in taking the steps towards peace. The Syrian Civil War has been a direct cause for the refugee crisis witnessed in Europe in which so many people have been rendered displaced.

Similarly, the civil war in Yemen persists with the human cost mounting. Thus far, 20 million people are estimated to be displaced and almost three quarters of the population are in need of aid. A conclusion and resolution to the conflict is paramount in Yemen for the sake of the people and regional stability.

In Bahrain too, Iranian involvement, though less belligerent, has an effect. Undoubtedly there would have been fuller participation in the 2014 national elections in Bahrain had Iran not encouraged prominent opposition leaders to back down on full participation. It is to be hoped that Iran will be more constructive when it comes to promoting full engagement by all communities in the forthcoming Bahrain national elections later this year.

Iran’s position on the global stage is incredibly important but their role in promoting a peaceful future for the Middle East is paramount. It is a role they must not shirk.